Work-life balance

Work-life balance

Work-life balance is a key issue for Women in Singapore

As Singaporeans are notorious for working beyond their office hours, achieving a work-life balance remains a central issue in the city-state, particularly for women. According to a recent poll by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), 43% of respondents did not have enough time for their families, while four in five said they hardly had any personal time.

However, Singaporeans' lifestyle remains governed by a fierce competitive mindset, high employers' expectations, and a strong commitment to work. Thus, current values and behaviours hinder an effective work-life balance.

According to Robert Half's 2011 Workplace Survey, 69% of Singapore employees tune into work when they are out of the office or on holiday, higher than the regional average of 66%.

This situation is especially dramatic for women, to whom parenthood becomes an obstacle for their careers while their long hours keep them from looking after their children. As a consequence, Singapore's birth rate has dropped dramatically in the past years, to one of the lowest levels in the world.

The government fears that this phenomenon could threaten the economic stability built up over the past few decades. In order to reverse the trend of declining birth rates, the authorities have continuously tried to entice couples and women to have children through a myriad of schemes.

Last month, women in Singapore called for an end to baby making campaigns. Many agree that the key to increasing birth rates does not lie in boosting maternity leaves, but in improving work-life balance.

"We are so busy meeting our key performance indicators as workers, we don't have time to spend with our families," Nanyang Technological University assistant professor Debbie Goh told Bikya News.

She illustrated why Singaporeans are concerned about having children: "I talked to a teacher. She has four kids... She appreciates the schemes we have for working mothers... But she said, ‘If I took all these schemes, then I am pushing my work to my colleagues and other teachers and further more when it comes to assessment time, my head of department and my principal will not know what grade to give me. Even if you give me more of these leaves and perks, it will not help me with my career.'

So what would encourage Singaporeans to have children? She said ‘improve work-life balance.' Professor Goh said work-life balance depends on the attitudes of the employers, attitudes of the individuals and social norms - "everybody is working, so I have to work long hours too".

In order to help women find the perfect work/family balance, NTUC-PME has organised a webinar (27 June from 8.00 to 9.00p.m. via that will focus on "Leaders in the Tech Industry for its inaugural session. The guest will be Ms Jessica Tan -General Manager, Regional Enterprise Business, Microsoft Singapore- who has 20 years of experience in the Tech Industry, including 14 years with IBM. Netizens will be able to ask her how to achieve a successful career, how she found the perfect work-life balance, and how to face the challenges posed by being a woman. In this inaugural session, viewers might find useful tips and inspiration.

GDP growth in Singapore

GDP growth in Singapore

Singapore's GDP growth

Singapore's economy has been showing signs of expansion, following on from a smaller contraction in manufacturing. While there are general signs that the Asian economy in general is recovering fairly well after recent troubles, the island state seems to be enjoying a particularly fruitful time, with the local currency rising in value.

Singapore's gross domestic product rose by some 3.3% from the tail end of December 2012 and into the first quarter of the year. This is in sharp contrast to the comparable figure during the final quarter of 2012 when the economy had shrunk. According to Singapore's Trade Ministry, the GDP has expanded to an extent that mirrors its own forecasts for expansion in 2013.

A snapshot of Singapore gives a hint of the boom times that might be lying ahead for the state's residents. As office workers enjoy lunch at Lau Pa Sat Festival Market in Singapore's central business district, they are doing so in Asia's third-most expensive city to live in – and the sixth in the entire world. These figures have come from research undertaken by an Economist Intelligence Unit that ranked 130 cities across the globe.

According to one Singapore-based economist at Citigroup Inc, Kit Wei Zheng: "The leading indicators seem to point to small but modest, positive growth in 2013."

Market recoveries in the USA and China have had a knock-on effect, improving the Singapore market. Economies as disparate as Malaysia and Thailand have also been feeling these effects, with both nations reporting encouraging GDP growth over the last quarter.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore allowed faster currency gains last year in order to try and curb price increases. It may well maintain its appreciation policy Singapore continues to struggle with the constant pressures of inflation.

Another Singapore-based economist, Vincent Conti of Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd, spoke of "holding on to a three percent growth outlook for the full year, that's being driven by a better outlook for the global economy in general, particularly from the U.S., as well as China".

Against this positive backdrop, there was further good news for Singapore money. The dollar recently rose 0.2 percent against its American counterpart.

Singapore curtailing foreign workers

Singapore curtailing foreign workers

Singapore curtailing foreign workers

Singapore's Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam turned his attention to the prickly subject of low-skilled foreign workers continuing to flood into the island state. Unveiling the country's budget for 2013, he announced that Singapore would be imposing limits on the numbers of foreign workers entering the island state. Further to this, he added that Singaporean businesses had a duty to assist with the upgrading of the skills levels of the local workforce.

His intention was that firms who continued to employ foreign workers, because their low skills meant they did not have to be as remunerated as skilled staff, would be suitably levied. In addition, foreign workforce quotas would be reduced, and there would be far stricter qualification requirements for aspiring entrants.

The question of foreign workers and their place in the Singapore market has been a hot political issue for some time. There has been increased criticism of the country's immigration policies. This has grown steadily more vocal until it has reached the state where many local Singaporeans are blaming unfettered foreign workers for rises in both property prices and the cost of living.

In a keynote speech, Shanmugaratnam mentioned that the influx of foreign workers had been far "too high" in recent years. However, he was particularly cautious about any knee-jerk reaction. A sharp reduction in the numbers of foreign workers was certainly not a recommended course of action. "We cannot cut off the flow of foreign workers abruptly but we have to slow the growth".

Shanmugaratnam stressed that his government's policies were all about encouraging Singapore money by inspiring businesses to reduce any over-reliance on manpower. It was not about replacing foreign workers with locally recruited counterparts. The ultimate aim of these tactics was to improve productivity, avoiding the likelihood of an indefinite increase in the numbers of foreign workers being attracted to jobs in Singapore at the expense of the local workforce.

The Singaporean budget has been tabled at a time when locals are increasing in voicing concerns over the burgeoning numbers of foreign workers being attracted to work in the island state. Recently, a government white paper was published on workforce demographics. This demonstrated that Singapore's population is projected to rise to almost 7 million over the next decade and a half – an increase of some 30%. One of the most obvious areas that would account for this rise would be in the numbers of foreign workers.

Best country for a new business

Best country for a new business

Singapore as best country for a new business

According to an annual report by the World Bank, Singapore is the best country in the world in which to start a business. The plucky little Asian nation beat some strong competition to top the list of the recent World Bank's ‘Doing Business' study.

The research evaluated 183 countries based on certain criteria, such as the ease with which they encouraged new business start-ups. Each country was evaluated on key aspects, such as how easy it was to obtain credit, or the degree of government support initiatives available. Singapore ranked number one, followed by Hong Kong and then New Zealand. The UK came in fourth and the US fifth. The former French African colony of Chad occupied the lowest rung of the ladder.

The World Bank have been publishing their studies since 2004, scoring their subjects according to nine main criteria. Amongst these factors are payment of tax, the ease of cross-border trading, registration of property, dealing with construction permits, the ease of closing down a business, how contracts are enforced, and how investors are protected. The research does not study the wider conditions such as infrastructure, skills of the workforce, security or political stability.

Of the 183 countries that were surveyed, the World Bank commented that 117 had implemented new business-friendly regulations between June 2009 and May 2010 (the 12 month period that was covered for the 2011 report).

A World Bank analyst commented that governments were reacting to the global economy. "Against the backdrop of the global financial and economic crisis, policy makers around the world took steps in the past year to make it easier for local firms to start up and operate. While some economies have been hit harder than others, how easy or difficult it is to start and run a business - and how efficient courts and insolvency proceedings are - can influence how firms cope with crises and how quickly they can seize new opportunities."

The report's co-author Dahlia Khalifa said that Singapore continued to spearhead the economic elite due to a variety of reasons. "Singapore has now been top of our survey for the past five years. It is simply the most efficient place from which to import and export. For example, you only need four documents to export and import goods, which remains global best practice. Singapore is also the leader in protecting investors and minority shareholders."

The People's Republic of China, now the second-largest economy on the planet, actually trailed Singapore by some distance (at 79th place on the list).