From offering holiday perks to letting parents match their children's school schedules: How workplaces are being built with empathy

To these companies, such initiatives are not just beneficial to employee welfare, but can also lead to improved productivity and better business outcomes

(From left) Ms Carey Shek, vice-president of people and culture at Klook; Mr Edmond Wong, business development and corporate social responsibility director of Kim Choo Kueh Chang; Ms Susan Chong, chief executive of Greenpac Singapore. PHOTO: KLOOK, KIM CHOO KUEH CHANG AND GREENPAC

Introducing family-friendly initiatives, such as flexible or hybrid work arrangements, is not only beneficial to staff welfare, but can also lead to improved productivity and better business outcomes.

The Business Times speaks to 3 employers to find out how they have benefitted from introducing such initiatives to their workplaces, and what advice they have for companies who are thinking of doing the same.


Roundtable Panellists:

Ms Cary Shek, vice-president of people and culture at Klook
Mr Edmond Wong, business development and corporate social responsibility director of Kim Choo Kueh Chang
Ms Susan Chong, chief executive of Greenpac Singapore



Tessa Oh, The Business Times

Q: What family friendly practices or initiatives have the company introduced, and when did these start?

Ms Shek: We are thankful to be able to tap national initiatives such as My Family Weekend and encourage our locally-based employees to end their work week earlier with the meaningful Eat With Your Family Day.

Besides offering typical family-friendly leave options, Klook adopts flexible work arrangements, including staggered working hours in Singapore. We also offer “Klookies” to employees annually, which they would utilise on experiences available on our platform, and family-friendly activities including cruises, staycations and attractions have been popular.

Ms Chong: We have staggered start times to cater for different family lifestyles and needs, for example, to allow parents to match school start times. (We also have) work from home arrangements for unexpected family circumstances that may arise. If that is not feasible – when they encounter care-giving challenges at short notice – employees are welcome to bring their children to the office. Most of these practices started... as soon as we saw and recognised the need as they arose. This was especially important as our team got bigger and members progressed through different phases in their lives.

(Before the pandemic), staff members were encouraged to bring their family members to staff events and festive celebrations... This is to allow staff members to show their family the working environment they are in... and to allow the family members to know and hang out with their fellow colleagues.

Mr Wong: We are managing a traditional family business. Every business has their own dynamics, and at least for ours... a lot of manual labour is required. For our factory staff... given the fact that we can produce more dumplings (after tapping the government’s initiatives to boost productivity), we don’t need that many man-hours to stress our staff out. So because of that, we were able to introduce shift work, so they can come in and work a 6 to 8 hour duration that is up to them.

We also have part-timers, and a lot of them are our disabled staff. A lot of them are also in their teens... and they have medical appointments, enrichment sessions or... dance and music classes. We want to give them the flexibility of knowing they can be enabled for work, be disciplined and independent, but at the same time... we don’t want them to be tied down at the job and just because of work they cannot go for these things. That is why we introduced this part-time working arrangement for our disabled staff.

Q: What has the response or feedback been like from staff so far, and are there plans for other initiatives?

Ms Shek: We strive to empower our employees and to create an inclusive culture at Klook. While our current offerings are well-received, the needs and preferences of our workforce will continue to evolve, so it’s important for us to seek employee feedback continually, and look into introducing new practices or initiatives to provide our employees with adequate support to manage their work and life commitments.

Ms Chong: Employees welcome these initiatives and they have increased their motivation and productivity level as they can put full concentration into their work. We are also slowly resuming some of our pre-Covid family friendly practices and activities, and we are constantly reviewing and evaluating possible new initiatives as we progress and the team grows with the business.

Mr Wong: I think we’ve definitely seen great improvements. The quality of work has become much better. Our staff knows that we are not a big organisation – we are still an SME (small and medium enterprise) – so the little things that we can offer to make their life a little bit better, they feel happy about it.

For our disabled staff... we actually have this initiative called Kaleidoscope... (We started this because we wanted to) establish a relationship with whoever we want to engage. This happened before Covid and we are hoping to revive this soon. It’s an opportunity for us to organise family events once a month for families with children with disabilities to join us for cooking classes, workshops and activities. Just have a good time with the facilities we have at our visitor centre.

(Prior to this), we realised that (our disabled staff) would not work with us longer than 2 weeks. (But by building a relationship with them through Kaleidoscope), they actually work with us for more than 2 years.

Q: Were there challenges in implementing these family-friendly initiatives, and how were they overcome? What learning points can you share with other corporates planning to introduce family-friendly initiatives at the workplace?

Ms Chong: Every individual has different needs. The key is understanding the needs of the employees and to exercise empathy and flexibility, while striking a balance with business needs.

Mr Wong: For an SME that’s family-oriented like ours, I know that it takes a lot of effort to convince the generation before us that there are things that ought to be done and we have to explore opportunities.

They must be encouraged that there are government grants out there that will allow us to take bold steps. Although we may fail... (but) the grants are offered to you to try. Although sometimes they may say, (the grants are more to improve) productivity... (but we can) see it in a different paradigm. It’s not just about being productive – if we can be more productive, we can then see how we can offer a better working environment for our staff.

We just need to know where we are steering ourselves to. Are we profit-driven, or are we willing to build relationships? It really depends on individual companies. (But) I believe that SMEs are in a much better position to make such decisions because there are not many hierarchies.

Ms Shek: As a global company that is turning 8 this year, our workforce will continue to change as our business grows. We have learnt that there is rarely a one-size-fits-all global approach, so we provide common guiding principles – based on the organisational culture we want to foster – while giving local markets autonomy to design the initiatives that best cater to their employees’ needs and preferences.

We hold on to the belief that our culture, policies and benefits should be as inclusive as possible. In Singapore’s context, they should be applicable to employees with children, those living with their parents, and even those whose families aren’t living here.

Q: What is the company’s position on hybrid work, and how is the company accommodating staff who are keen to work from home on a regular basis?

Ms Shek: At Klook, we are maintaining hybrid work arrangements and we empower our people managers to assess and provide additional flexibility to employees with family or other personal commitments.

The pandemic made us rethink the meaning of the physical workplace and how best we can empower local teams subject to their restrictions. We have to strike a balance, and the hybrid-working model gives us the best of both worlds, in terms of flexibility and human connection.

Ms Chong: Our industry is considered essential services as our clients are mostly in the semi-conductor and med-tech sectors (which have) demanding needs. Moving towards digitalisation and (adopting) cloud-based (solutions) have greatly facilitated remote working arrangements, if and where necessary.

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This story was first published in The Business Times.

This is brought to you by Families for Life and the Ministry of Social and Family Development, in support of the Year of Celebrating SG Families.

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