Flexi-work, and more options |

The road ahead is long, but one can hope

Last week, I shared my initial thoughts about Budget 2023 announcements for new families. TLDR: Financial support is always welcome, but it would only go so far in prompting couples to quit birth control and start trying for babies – because there are many more factors involved.

After The Weekly team spoke to a handful of millennial (27 to 42-year-old) mums to get their thoughts and hopes for family support, it became clear that the biggest wishes are the trickiest to fulfill. “Empower organisations to provide more flexible work arrangements,” said Syafiqah, mum of a 14-month-old. I can imagine other working mums and mums-to-be pumping their fists in the air.

Of course, the reality is far from meeting expectations when it comes to flexible work arrangements.

When I learnt from a June 2022 UOB survey that nearly half of employees had resumed a five-day work week in the office following the dropping of workplace capacity limits on April 26, 2022, my righteous millennial soul died a little. Why are companies in a rush to have their staff report physically as though the pandemic and resulting insights on remote working never happened? (If physical presence is so important, what sort of KPIs do they have?) It’s been almost a year since all staff have been allowed to return to the office. Based on current observations of weekday morning traffic, it’s safe to say that more than 50% of office workers in Singapore are clocking typical work hours in the office now. That’s the majority, by the way.

From a selfish POV, I’m grateful for not being part of that peak-hour traffic-fighting zombified crowd. My bosses have been quite open-handed when it comes to flexi-work, and I hope it stays that way. Obviously, I wish more employers would grant their staff flexi-work options where possible. More than just about improving wellbeing, flexi-work has a real impact on staff recruitment and retention. The sooner they see the light, the better.

Speaking of options, we millennials want more of them if we were to consider making more babies. Because, you know, we have ideals of work-life balance and gender equality to strive for, like how dads should play an “equal” role at home by doing their share of chores. Mum-of-three Selena noted: “Doubling the paternity leave sounds amazing at first until you consider how little it was before. There could definitely be more paternity leave support – particularly since the extended paternity leave is voluntary by employers at the start.

Another mum-of-three Mei Yan raised a thoughtful suggestion: Why not offer mums the option of longer maternity leave of “perhaps up to 18 months, at stepped down salaries”?

Citing the increasing loss of a “kampung structure” (where there are many extended family members around to help with caregiving chores), she drove home a point all idealistic folks have been afraid to admit: “Honestly, we cannot expect one person (or even a duo) to do everything: raise healthy, happy children, be economically productive, keep up with housework, maintain a loving marriage, and still have time to tend to their physical and mental health. We are not superhuman.” Yup.

While there’s a long way to go when it comes to supporting parents, here’s a silver lining: the overall desire to have kids is still strong in Singapore. 92% of married folks want to have two or more, while 77% of singles are interested too, according to a recent Marriage and Parenthood survey. If there’s one thing millennials have, it’s hope.

Estelle Low - Editor, The Singapore Women's Weekly (@estellelow)
Estelle Low
Editor, The Singapore Women's Weekly (@estellelow)
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