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No work emails, text messages after office hours? Not happening in S'pore, say experts

SINGAPORE — No sending of emails after work hours. No phone calls or text messages, too.

No work emails, text messages after office hours? Not happening in S'pore, say experts

Most employees whom TODAY spoke to feel that banning work-related communications after working hours will help encourage work-life balance.

SINGAPORE — No sending of emails after work hours. No phone calls or text messages, too.

While some employees in Singapore would love it if such restrictions, which are common in Western countries, exist here, it is unlikely to happen anytime soon. The obstacles are the need to maintain a competitive economy and the entrenched culture among workers here to be available round the clock, human resource experts said.

The stark difference between the work cultures in Singapore and Europe was brought to the fore last month, when former actress Sharon Au — who moved from Singapore to Paris in March last year — said in an interview with a Singapore radio station that her colleagues at the French private equity firm that she works for had reported her to the human resources department.

Her crime: Contacting them about work-related matters after office hours.

Ms Au, 44, said she had been reported on one occasion for emailing another staff at 8pm, and a second time when she had texted another colleague at 11pm about work.

Laws in France grant employees the right to disconnect from work; this includes receiving emails or text messages after office hours.

TODAY spoke to several employees in Singapore who said that they would welcome such laws here, although some acknowledged that it may be difficult to enforce such regulations for certain types of jobs.

AFTER OFFICE MESSAGES A COMMON OCCURRENCE

Most employees here said that work-related communication is a common occurrence after office hours.

Ms Tan Pueh Leng, 29, for instance, said that her superiors at her former company would send her WhatsApp messages at midnight and expect immediate responses.

Calling it an intrusion into her “personal space”, Ms Tan said she would give them the “double-tick treatment”, by showing that she had read the messages but chose not to reply.

Ms Jayasutha Samuthiran, 28, who now lives in the Netherlands, said that while she was based in Singapore, it was the norm for her to receive emails after working hours from bosses or colleagues at the multinational company she works at. This is because her firm had to work closely with offices based in the United Kingdom.

“Colleagues and bosses in Singapore would go back home on time and spend time with family before going online again to tackle emails at around 9pm. You weren't expected to act on any of these emails at that hour though,” said Ms Jayasutha.

She said since her move to Amsterdam earlier this year, she does not receive work-related messages after 6pm, and she described her evenings as being “mine and mine alone”.

EMPLOYEES HERE OPEN TO REGULATIONS ON AFTER-WORK COMMUNICATION

Most employees whom TODAY spoke to feel that similar regulations, if implemented here, would help encourage work-life balance.

Mr Raj Maran, who works in a technology startup, said that companies should set clear expectations on the time required for responding to work-related communication after office hours. For instance, employees could be given 24 hours to acknowledge emails.

“That will allow people to have the peace of mind outside of work and not worry about having to immediately reply,” said Mr Raj, 29.

Others, such as Ms Tam, who wanted to be known only by her first name, proposed for a top-down approach to encourage work-life balance in Singapore.

Citing the Government’s success in implementing the five-day work week, Ms Tam, 29, who works in the healthcare industry, said that regulations could be introduced to restrict after-office communication.

The five-day work week arrangement was implemented across the civil service in 2004 to allow employees to spend more time with their families.

She suggested that the Government start with a “softer” approach through public service announcements or advertisements to encourage people “to see that there is a life outside of work” before eventually introducing regulation.

A DIFFERENT CULTURE 

Human resource experts said that there is still some way to go before Singapore could replicate the regulations or work culture in European countries.

One key reason is the competitive nature of Singapore’s economy, which may require some workers to be contactable round the clock.

“As many global companies have their regional headquarters located in Singapore, sometimes it is necessary for employees to answer work emails or calls after working hours due to the time difference,” said Ms Linda Teo, the country manager of recruitment company ManpowerGroup Singapore.

“With Singapore being such a competitive market, bosses often expect immediate response from their staff when they want something done,” she said.

Mr David Ang Chee Chim, director of corporate services at Human Capital Singapore Academy, said that regulations could be difficult for businesses here to comply with.

Mr Alvin Ang, founder of recruitment firm Quantum Leap Career Consultancy, said that with manpower being Singapore’s only resource, the Government would have to ensure that any regulation does not erode the country’s competitive edge in the economy.

HOW DO BOSSES DRAW THE LINE?

Company policies restricting work-related communications after office hours do not appear to be a common practice, based on responses from recruitment agencies. Two of three human resource experts whom TODAY spoke to said that they did not know of any companies here which has such practices.

However, Ms Anthea Ong, a Nominated Member of Parliament who runs social enterprise Hush TeaBar, said that there is an agreement in her company to refrain from work-related messages after 9pm on weekdays and all day on weekends.

While Mr Alvin Ang, founder of Quantum Leap Career Consultancy, said that he emails his staff after office hours, he said that this is a “personal choice” and he does not expect his employees to respond outside of working hours unless it is absolutely urgent.

Ms Prisita Menon, on the other hand, felt that bosses who contact employees regarding work after office hours are instilling a negative culture and imposing unnecessary stress on employees.

Ms Menon, 37, who is a senior director at public relations firm Klareco Communications, said that she does not text her staff after 7pm on work days.

However, there is also an agreement within her team that if a client needs a crisis to be managed, everyone will be responsive to provide support to the client.

Such situations help the team set expectations on when they are required to respond after work, said Ms Menon.

Similarly, Ms Ong said that those in leadership roles should also set expectations so that a superior and an employee will know how to interact with each other.

Related topics

work-life balance sharon au email human resource

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