At the end of last year eight out of ten workers said they wanted better work-life balance in 2013. In several Asian countries, including Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, the figure topped 90%.
Does this yearning for work-life balance suggest that people would now prefer more time off to more financial rewards?
There's plenty of research showing that money isn't everything, especially for younger workers. Financial benefits are important, but not the 'key driver' for MTV's 'no-collar' generation. But nor is vacation. The MTV research found that millennials are motivated by three principal factors: work/life balance, loving what they do, and good benefits.
Then again, other surveys say that dissatisfaction with salary or bonuses is the main reason why people in Asia quit their jobs.
The importance of offering choice
Employees' desire for work-life balance suggests that instead of looking at a simple choice of more leave or more money, businesses should think more holistically.
Each individual has his or her own version of a better work-life balance: for some it is the ability to reconcile working hours with childcare hours; for some it is more time for golf or shopping; for some it is cutting down on long-haul business travel and jet lag; for others it is avoiding the need to spend 45 minutes each morning and evening in a jammed subway train or traffic gridlock.
Given those different scenarios, employers who allow staff flexibility to work their own way are offering a more useful benefit than simply more cash or more leave. Flexible work hours can facilitate family life, and letting people work at locations closer to home, such as business centres, cuts commuting times and expenses.
An hour a day saved on commuting makes a huge difference to people's ability to juggle work, play and relationships. It's an extra round of golf a week, at the very least. It also reduces the environmental impact of work.
Flexible working feeds into staff retention
Flexibility can also improve employers' ability to attract and retain workers. When we researched the most effective measures for encouraging women to return to work after maternity leave, respondents recognised the importance of flexible working practices:
· offering flexible working hours 93%
· letting people work closer to home 92%
· near-site crèche facilities 85%
· replacing some business travel with video-communication 79%
· job-sharing 65%.
Given that more than half of employers globally value returning mothers for their hard-to-find skills and experience, these are measures worth looking at, especially in markets such as Singapore which face a declining working-age population.
Flexible working practices are not the only way to help staff navigate the demands of work and life. Annual leave and healthcare benefits still head the tables in terms of how many employers offer them, but other perks are emerging:
· 28% of employers in Asia offer lifestyle benefits such as gym membership, and a further 18% plan to offer them
· 19% offer stress management/resilience coaching, and 22% plan to add this benefit
· 10% offer the choice to buy or sell annual leave, and another 10% plan to do so.
Again, these recognise the need to offer people choice, to give them ways to manage their lifestyle better.
An energised workforce is more productive
Another reason to move beyond the traditional question of breaks or bonus is that there may not even have to be a choice. There's an implication here that the person who wants to enjoy more leisure time will produce or deliver less, and therefore earn a smaller bonus.
But what if someone can do both? Two things stand out here. First, I come back to the point about letting people work closer to home or outside peak hours. If they don't spend 90 minutes commuting each day, they have more time left for both leisure and work.
Second, flexible working practices make staff more motivated and energised, say employers all over the world.
According to our research into 16,000-plus business people worldwide, 68% of businesses believe flexible working practices enable staff to generate additional revenues. Thus, better work-life balance doesn't carry a financial price; in contrast, it can improve financial results.
So, no, I'm not saying that every employer should suddenly grant their employees extra annual leave, and wait for the bottom line to improve. But I'm saying there doesn't always have to be a choice between enjoying life and enjoying a higher income.
Flexible working practices and letting staff work their way mean that, instead of choosing between more leisure time or more bonuses, they may be able to have both.
Randstad Workmonitor, 'Employee expectations for 2013', December 2012.
Blog.viacom, 'Consumer insights: MTV's 'no collar workers', October 2012.
Towers Watson, '2013 Asia Pacific benefits trends'.
Regus, 'Flexibility drives productivity', 2012.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.
Do you know more about this story? Contact us anonymously through this link.
Mark Dixon is the Group CEO and Founder of Regus. He is one of Europe’s best-known entrepreneurs. Since founding Regus in Brussels, Belgium in 1989, he has achieved a formidable reputation for leadership and innovation.