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COMMENTARY
HR & EDUCATION | Contributed Content, Singapore
Published: 21 Feb 14
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Ronnie Tan

Why flexibility is key in Singapore's workforce management in 2014

BY RONNIE TAN

The rapid pace of change in the business world is forcing organizations to learn swiftly how to optimise organizational effectiveness in a volatile economy.

In 2013, we focused on how employer branding is a critical part of talent management that addresses the war for talent, even as we look for high levels of employee engagement as well as increases in productivity and retention.

As we look to the future much of it will remain same but businesses need to be more agile as they continue to learn to operate flexibly in order to stay on top.

Singapore’s tight labour market will continue to challenge employers in Singapore. We do expect pressure on businesses to continue when it comes to workforce planning with Singapore’s ageing population, the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) that is expected to come into effect in August, and also the country’s need to remain resilient and competitive despite these tight labour market conditions.

There are no magic pills but what businesses can do is focus on these three key areas that they have control over as they plan for 2014.

1. Build a more cohesive team even as we look at a multi-generational business environment
As our life expectancy rises and birth rates decline, the median age of our citizen population will increase from 40 in 2012 to 45 by 20251. The Population White Paper has suggested it, the government has reminded us, reports have proven it, and it is time for businesses to accept the fact that our population is ageing.

In an era where four different generations co-exist in today’s workforce, businesses need greater cohesion within business teams and this can be done by at least starting to educate the workforce with incremental steps such as reorganizing their training programmes to attain an inclusive and harmonious workforce.

Contrary to the belief that senior workers are less capable physically, more expensive as they may be more prone to taking sick leave and resistant to change, employers should play their part in revisiting how they engage the workforce to keep them sharp and alert.

For instance, wellness programs may be considered for both young and old employees as part of their package as we look at workforce policies in the new year.

According to HSBC’s Future of Retirement Survey2, over 90% of Singaporean employers surveyed said their older workers were as loyal and reliable as younger ones, and three-quarters saw them at least as productive, saying they tried to encourage them to remain in the workplace.

For businesses to stay on top of their game, they need to promote inter-dependence for greater collaboration among the different generations within an organization that are bi-directional.

This can be done by investing in reverse mentoring where the mature workers can share their invaluable skills and knowledge while the Gen X and Gen Y can impart their technological and social media and digital skills.

2. Increase business effectiveness by redesigning jobs
To sustain a core Singaporean population, the government has been enhancing the marriage and parenthood package for Singaporeans such as making it faster and easier to get housing to support earlier marriages and births, enhancing work-life measures to help working couples balance work and family commitments, and encouraging fathers to play a bigger role in bringing up their children.

The government has also been improving the immigration policy, such as the most recent Fair Consideration Framework (FCF) by the Ministry of Manpower. Despite the mixed reactions to the initiatives, the Singapore government has done well in creating awareness of the issue among Singaporeans and putting in place policies in hope of improving the situation.

However, policies can only provide an environment to succeed, but for it to blossom, businesses need to reimagine workforce strategies and understand ways to maximise their contributions and potential even as they mature.

One way to do so is to look internally and redesign work to increase productivity in the workforce such as should mature employees work 5 hours a day, 6 days a week instead of 8 hours for 5 days?

The key to successfully restructuring jobs is to understand the importance of flexibility and realize that employers are in control of their businesses in this age of rapid change and uncertainty.

3. The business wants more not less from human resources
Despite the proven benefits of HR transformations, business and HR leaders continue to voice frustrations with HR’s ability to deliver business value. In this age of economic uncertainty it is important businesses stay agile and change-ready.

Resistance to change will always be present, however, a carefully choreographed dance between the C-suite and HR can lead to talent excellence and business success.

It has been reported that businesses with HR integrated into the business have nearly 40% lower turnover, 38% higher employee engagement and more than twice the revenue per employee compared with compliance-driven HR organizations3.

HR Professionals are most valuable when they can forge strong partnerships with the top management in order to positively move forward in a strategic direction.

With more involvement, human resources will be able to deliver business value through building global HR networks in order to expand and prosper in the international arena, developing human resources that continually build competitive advantage in an ever-changing environment, and adding value to their distinctive competencies.

It’s no longer a cliché to say that a business’s most important asset is its workforce. Unstable and fluctuating economic and demographic trends require businesses to continue to adopt a scalable and integrated approach to workforce management and if there is one overarching recommendation we have for businesses it is for them to be flexible when it comes to managing talent or risk being left behind.

1Ministry of Manpower. Keynote Address by Dr Amy Khor, Minister of State for Manpower, at the Age Management Seminar “Creating Age-Friendly Workplaces”. 26 June 2013. Web.
2HSBC. The Future of Retirement. 2006. Web.
3Harris, Stacey and O’Leonard, Karen. The HR Factbook 2011: Executive Summary. 2011.

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.

Ronnie Tan

Ronnie Tan

Ronnie Tan is Group EVP, Asia Pacific & Head, Global Talent Management at Right Management. He has over 25 years of working experience covering sales and marketing, hi-tech manufacturing, human resources and operation management. Ronnie holds a Masters of Business in Administration (MBA) from University of Chicago GSB and a Bachelor of Business in Business Administration (BBBA) from RMIT University in addition to a professional diploma in Management Studies (major in HRM).

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