Blog | Work-life balance – different strokes for different folks

By Yazad Dalal

Yazad Dalal, Senior Director, HCM Transformation, Oracle ASEAN

In China, 75% of workers claim their stress levels have risen over the past year, says a recent Regus survey, compared to just 48% of workers in the rest of the world, according to the Wall Street Journal .

Workers in Hong Kong are at the top of the list in Asia-Pacific for availability around the clock: with 77% of them feeling that they must take work calls while on holiday. Hong Kong nationals are followed closely behind by China, India, and Singapore, where 49% or more feel compelled by the digital office tether, according to the Randstad Q2 Workmonitor report.

“Work-life balance” is a catch-all term for measuring work hours, accessibility and leave policies. But in reality its definition varies by region and generation. In Asia-Pacific, work-life is often a euphemism for balancing work with family time.

But in contrast to many parts of the Western world, family is not always limited to married couples caring for children. In Asian societies where larger joint families are more common, Millennial workers are often coming home to grand-parents or elderly relatives. Fulfilling familial obligations may have equal or greater importance to social activities.

In a Universum study that asked Millennials around the world to prioritize their lives, nearly all respondents ranked time with family as number one, followed by personal growth and learning, while wealth and income fell toward the bottom of the list.

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The highest number of Google searches for the phrase “work-life balance” come from Singapore and Hong Kong. But Europeans take a very different approach and they certainly don’t search or discuss the topic with the same frequency. Instead there is a continental recognition that life outside of the office is sacrosanct. This is most often evinced in the European sense of self: you certainly don’t hear “what do you do” as a conversation starter as is so often the case in Singapore, New York, or Mumbai.

“Try me again in four weeks. I am off on holiday.” This is a normal announcement in Sweden, but unheard of in Hong Kong or San Francisco. Go to Paris in August and you will find a ghost town — they certainly aren’t dialing into conference calls from the Riviera.

But in regions where this phenomenon is less common, some governments are trying to convince companies of the merits of better work-life balance. Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is focused on Strategies for Work-Life Harmony that provide a “win-win situation for both employers and employees”. They have defined work-life strategies into three categories: flexible work arrangements, enhanced leave benefits and employee support schemes, and offer funding of up to S$120,000 for companies who want to develop flexible work options for their employees.

Singapore’s MOM back up their rationale with a study conducted by The Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) that found that for every $1 invested in work life programs the companies reaped a return of $1.68. But perhaps the best proof of the business value is the fact that in a service-driven economy, “happy employees make happy customers”.

The author is senior director for HCM Transformation at Oracle Asean

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