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How has the Singapore workforce adapted to "Living with Covid"?

The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) has been actively researching with online surveys, throughout the pandemic period, across various themes and topics relating to how the Singapore-based population is reacting and managing life during Covid-19.

Over a series of ‘survey waves’, researchers have covered themes such as “How have Singaporeans' attitudes towards living with the coronavirus changed”, “Attitudes and perceptions of Singaporeans towards work and workplace arrangements amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic” and “behaviours in the new normal as the country moves towards endemic living”.

We summarise some of the key themes specific to the Singapore-based workforce from these studies:

Preferences for work arrangements continue to shift

- Between July 2021 to April 2022, between 41 - 52 percent felt that flexible work arrangements should be the new norm for workplaces in Singapore.

- This is broken down into ~40% are looking at working from home three days a week, ~30% are looking at working from home one to two days a week and ~20% are looking at working from home four to five days a week.

These preferences seem to be highly driven by the home and family environment

- 44 percent of respondents with children at home preferred working from home on most days. Respondents with younger children had lower levels of well-being if they had to return to the office on most days.

- 52 percent of respondents with aged persons at home preferred working from home on most days as they prefer the flexibility to arrange their work schedule around caregiving needs of the aged persons.

- 38 percent of respondents with both children and aged persons at home also feel that working from office on most days should be the new norm for workplaces compared to respondents with children or respondents with aged persons at home.

More respondents are returning to the office

- At least half of the respondents have been doing so throughout the pandemic.

- This proportion has been increasing in 2022, with 74 per cent returning to workplaces on most days in April 2022; this was the week after the announcement of the easing of workplace safe management measures.

What are the drivers for returning to the office?

- Easy access to the office network and IT systems was key in returning to the office (79 percent).

- The ease of collaboration with colleagues and project management was a close second (78 percent).

- Conducive and dedicated working space was cited as the third driver (76 percent)

- As a contrast, more than 80 percent of respondents felt that reduced chances of catching COVID-19 (87 percent), greater flexibility in incorporating personal life needs with work schedules (83 percent) and the ability to attend to family needs (81 per cent) were important reasons as to why they would prefer to work from home.

What are the challenges working from home?

- The biggest challenge for 44 percent of respondents was the inability to unplug from work after working hours.

- About three in ten (37 percent) shared that the lack of social interaction with colleagues was a challenge.

- Another 35 percent said it was a challenge to develop mutual trust between employer and employee.

Looking outwards from the workplace, what are some concerns Singapore-based respondents have?

- More than four in ten respondents have shared that they are rather or very worried about the cost of healthcare (45 per cent), cost of utilities (41 per cent) and cost of food (40 per cent) possibly rising this year.

- Respondents shared that there is a need to provide support for businesses that are affected by the pandemic and encourage employers to hire through the Jobs Growth Incentive (44 percent).

- Six out of ten respondents felt confident that – based on the performance of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic, that Singapore is well prepared to face the next pandemic.

Mental health and wellness a key concern

- Two age cohorts – those aged 21 to 29, and those aged 40 to 49 -experienced declining mental or emotional health.

- The study shared that “…young people may be worried about their life choices amid an uncertain future or stressed from fledgling careers, while middle-aged respondents may be facing considerable financial pressures to support the old and the young amid job disruptions and the rising cost of living.”

The IPS study on work and workplace arrangements summarises its findings by sharing that organisations can give more consideration towards employee needs by involving them in the decision on workplace arrangements, with an objective of increasing better work-life harmony. This will help support employees achieve work and personal goals, and encourage progressive practices in workplaces.

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