Assistance Schemes to Improve Staff Work-Life Balance
Human resource is the most valuable asset of any business and most successful companies are driven by hard-working employees. Given today’s increasingly competitive and stressful business environment, managing and retaining employees has become a top priority for most human resource professionals and small business owners. Employees are being encouraged to strike a healthy work-life balance and Singapore is one country where the government actively urges employers to promote work-life strategies at the workplace. To this effect, the Ministry of Manpower has launched specialised funds that Singapore companies can tap into in order to develop and implement work-life strategies.
What are Work-Life Strategies?Work-life strategies are specific measures that an employer implements in order to help its staff attain a healthy work-life balance. In a broad sense, work-life balance refers to the right combination of participation in paid-work and personal commitments and responsibilities. Work-life strategies vary across organizations depending upon the profile of their employees, the nature of work that the companies carry out, and specific job roles that the companies offer to their staff. It is important to have varied, imaginative, and fulfilling work-life strategies that benefit both the employer as well as employees. Work-life strategies can take the form of flexible work arrangements, leave benefits as well as employee support schemes.
Importance of Work-Life StrategiesWork-life strategies play an important role in shaping a more productive workforce thereby benefitting the economy as a whole. It is of particular significance in a country like Singapore where the labor force plays a key role in the success of the nation. In order to ensure that Singapore’s labor force remains productive, competitive and innovative it is important for workplaces to be more responsive to the needs of staff in order to maximize their full potential.
In addition, certain economic and social trends such as an ageing workforce, increase in the number of female employees in the workforce, rise in dual income families, longer work-hours, a tight labor market, and a falling birth-rate strongly underpin the need to implement work-life strategies in Singapore.
Effective work-life strategies benefits businesses in several ways including reduced employee absenteeism, improved customer experience, a more satisfied and motivated workforce, increased labor productivity, improvement in employee recruitment and retention rates, reduced work-stress, greater loyalty towards the employer, reduced staff turnover, and an improved corporate image for the company.
Funding Schemes for Implementing Work-Life StrategiesA 2011 survey released by Ernst & Young revealed that work-life balance ranked ahead of salary as the key-driver for motivation at the workplace among 110 employees in Singapore. However, a more recent survey by global recruitment & HR services provider, Randstad reveals that majority of employees in Singapore struggle to achieve work-life balance, due to the widespread use of technology. A separate survey by recruitment firm Hays in 2010 confirms that majority of Singaporeans think that work-life balance is attainable but a flexible employer is key. Evidently, work-life strategies is at a nascent stage in Singapore. In order to address this gap, the Singapore authorities have introduced two key funding schemes – WoW! Fund and Flexi-Works! fund – that encourage companies to implement work-life strategies at their workplace
Work-Life Works! Fund
What is the Work-Life Works! (WoW!) Fund?
The Work-Life Works! Fund or Wow! Fund is a one-time grant that is given to businesses in order to encourage employers to implement work-life strategies at the workplace. Under the Wow! Fund, the government will co-fund up to 80% of the costs incurred for approved work-life projects in relation to flexible work arrangements, leave benefits, and employee support schemes, subject to a cap of S$20,000 per organisation.
Who is eligible to apply for the WoW! Fund?
- Private-sector, non-profit and public-sector organizations are eligible to apply for the grant.
- Note that subsidiaries of a company that operate as part of a group can apply only as a group and not as individual organizations.
- The organization must provide evidence that it has at least five paid employees on its rolls.
- Only the following expenditures are covered by the fund:
- Cost incurred on raining HR managers and line supervisors to facilitate or implement work-life strategies: All project leaders must compulsorily attend the MOM approved work-life training sessions while it is optional for HR staff, line managers, and affected staff.
- Cost of IT or physical infrastructure that facilitates the development of flexible work arrangements.
- Cost of infrastructure and programmes that support selected Employee Support Schemes; lactation or family rooms.
- Costs incurred in engaging an MOM approved, qualified work-life consultant who can provide guidance on work-life issues. Note that it is not mandatory to appoint a consultant.
- The WoW! Fund does not cover the following types of expenditure:
- Costs incurred on purchasing software for day to day business operations such as inventory, HR , or accounting software;
- Recurring costs such as maintenance of IT equipment;
- Costs incurred on hiring manpower;
- Goods and Services Tax;
- Projects that fit better with other funding schemes such as workplace health and fitness;
- Schemes that promote personal well-being such as a gym or club membership or projects that not considered appropriate for public funding such as family day or dinner & dance.
WoW! Fund Pre-requisites
- In order to apply for the WoW! Fund, the company must first appoint a project leader and a work-life champion for its work-life project. The project leader is the key person who will be responsible for implementing the project and liaising with the MOM on behalf of the company. The work-life champion should be a senior-management member and is held responsible for the success of the project and the grant. The work-life champion can also act as the project leader.
- Once the project leader and work-life champion are appointed, they must both compulsorily attend the WoW! Fund briefing session conducted by the MOM before proceeding to apply for the WoW! Fund.
- The project leader is also required to attend a work-life training program either on approval of the fund or even before the company can apply for the fund.
- Any project related to work-life strategies must be completed within one year from the date of approval of funding.
- Prior approval from the MOM must be sought before incurring any expenditure related to the work-life project except for the project leader’s work-life training program.
- Note that approval of project proposal does not equate to reimbursement, which will only be made upon the successful achievement of project outcome targets.
- An in-principle approval must be obtained from the MOM before proceeding to incur expenses on implementing the work-life project.
Wow! Fund Application Procedure
- The application procedure involves submitting an application form, a copy of the company’s business profile obtained from ACRA, and quotation of items or services requested (if any).
- Applications can be submitted online by emailing the same to MOM.
- Successful applicants will receive an in-principle approval while incomplete applications will be rejected. Since every application is reviewed in relation to other applications it is possible for a complete application that meets all the criteria to be rejected. Hence, it is important for the application to demonstrate a sound work-life intention, which guarantees that the company will be able to undertake the work-life project.
- Once the in-principle approval is obtained the company can go ahead and implement the work-life project. However, it must be noted that approval does not guarantee reimbursement, which is subject to the achievement of outcome targets.
- The project must be implemented within one year from the date of approval. Note that the project must be implemented in accordance to what has been set out in the application. Any variations or alterations in implementing the project necessitates prior written approval from MOM.
- Reimbursement by MOM will be made only upon the achievement of the outcome targets and submission of a complete claim. In case cash-flow is a consideration, reimbursement can be sought in two phases – the first reimbursement of S$10,000 when the company has achieved the outcome targets under a Common Tranche and the second reimbursement of S$10,000 upon completion of project and meeting the targets listed under the Enhanced Tier. The reimbursement is subject to the MOM’s approval of the final project report, proof of payment and successful audit. MOM can choose to reduce the grant reimbursement if there are downward variations in actual expenditure for which the grant was based or if the MOM is not convinced of the successful implementation of the work-life project.
- MOM also reserves the right to audit successful applicants at any point in time during the two years after completion of the project to ensure that the grant is used appropriately. Hence, it is important that applicants retain documentary proof related to the project for at least three years.
What is Flexi-Works! Fund?
Flexi-Works! is a grant that is given to businesses in order to encourage employers to hire staff on a part-time basis or on flexible-work arrangements such as staggered hours, flexi-time, job-sharing, telecommuting, and alternative work schedules. Companies can tap into a grant of up to S$100,000 in order to implement flexible work arrangements.
What costs does the Flexi-Works! Fund cover?
The grant can be utilized for expenditure incurred on job redesign, consultancy, recruitment, training, absentee payroll and equipment or to implement part-time or flexible working arrangements. Note that the grant cannot be used for any form of retention bonus or salary support.
How does the Flexi-Works! Fund work?
Under the Flexi-Works! Fund, funding will be disbursed in two tranches:
- Tranche 1: Under Tranche 1 companies can claim up-to S$10,000 for introducing flexible work arrangements. This is subject to a) the company sending HR staff for MOM-approved Work-life training; b) including flexible work arrangements as part of the HR Policy; and c) communicating this policy to all the staff. The grant amount will be based on 80% of the actual cost incurred, capped at S$10,000 per company. Note that companies can only apply for reimbursement of costs. Since this tranche is the same as the first tranche of the Wow! Fund (i.e Common Tranche explained above), companies can only tap on this tranche once, either under the WoW! Fund or Flexi-Works! Fund.
- Tranche 2: Under Tranche 2 companies can claim up-to S$90,000 for recruiting staff on part-time or flexible work arrangements basis. This is subject to a) fulfilling the requirements of Tranche 1; and b) recruiting local workers, 60% of whom should have been out of work for at least 3 months and who are all aged 30 years and above. The grant amount will be based on:
- Number of staff recruited on part-time or flexible working arrangements and retained for at least two months multiplied by S$1,500; or
- 80% of the declared project costs, whichever is lower, subject to a cap of S$90,000 per company.
The Flexi-Works! Fund is an initiative by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), in partnership with the National Trade Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF). Interested companies can apply for the fund by contacting the NTUC or SNEF.
On a Final Note
Adopting work-life strategies is a win-win situation for both organizations and employees. Moreover, work-life balance programs tend to have a positive effect not only at the micro-level but also at the macro-level, benefitting the economy as a whole. What distinguishes Singapore from other economies is the quality of its workforce. It has therefore become increasingly important to implement work-life strategies across all business sectors especially among SMEs as they comprise of individual small sized workforces that operate in a highly competitive market. By introducing funding schemes such as the WoW! Fund and Flexi-Works! Fund the Singapore government ensures that companies and employees reap the maximum benefits of adopting work-life balance programs.
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