Published on 01 Aug 2022

Workers want 4-day week in S'pore; some employers have started to offer this option

They urge caution after poll shows seven in 10 workers here favour it

Most workers in Singapore are keen to have a four-day work week for better work-life balance, in line with a large-scale trial that is under way in Britain.


Since June, more than 3,300 workers at 70 UK companies were put on a four-day week with no loss of pay.

However, local academics and business leaders caution against a wholesale copy of Britain's model, citing differences in societal and work norms, and the trade-offs that may be needed.

This comes even as some early movers in Singapore have begun to adopt a shorter work week.

These range from small outfits such as a dental practice to big corporates like PropertyGuru.

Overall, the desire to spend fewer days at work is strong among the wider workforce here.

Seven in 10 local workers want the four-day work week, according to a Milieu Insight poll run for The Straits Times in July.

Citing a similar survey done in December 2021, Milieu's chief operating officer Stephen Tracy said: "When we asked respondents how a four-day work week will help, Singaporeans were the most likely to say that it will help achieve 'greater work-life balance'."

Issues related to burnout may be driving their response, he added.

Implementing a four-day week across all Singapore firms is not as simple as it may seem.

Professor Trevor Yu from Nanyang Technological University said: "Proceed with caution even if the UK trial succeeds. Significant differences in mindset, culture, societal expectations and business climate exist."

How will the move affect Singapore's competitiveness? What if competitor countries do not follow suit? Should schools switch to a four-day school week? How will caregivers be affected? All these issues need to be studied, he said.

Mr Kurt Wee, president of Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said: "When you count the number of weekends and public holidays, it is quite a lot.

"Plus, in Singapore, the men have to do reservist, and there is maternity leave, paternity leave and all that. We might be going overboard."

The Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) said it will be watching the outcomes of the UK trial but will not endorse it.

SNEF executive director Sim Gim Guan said: "There is no one-size-fits-all type of work arrangement that can apply to all workplaces."

Ms Lauren Huntington, a solution strategist at Qualtrics, said: "People are not 100 per cent convinced that a four-day work week is the solution, because they know that there would be trade-offs."

The call could also be employees signalling bigger issues such as well-being, mental health and inclusivity, she said.

The labour shortage in some sectors also makes it tough for employers to allow their workers to work fewer days a week.

Mr Chow Keng Hai, a senior hospitality and leisure services executive, said the service industry not only lacks manpower, but also qualified staff.

"The industry is losing talent faster than it can recruit, in every position and at every level," he added.

Despite the challenges, a four-day week is not impossible in Singapore, with some businesses taking an early plunge into such a format.

At Sultans of Shave, a chain of barber shops, some of its 50 employees have three rest days despite its five shops operating mostly nine hours a day, six days a week.

DP Dental, which has two clinics with plans for another one, implemented the four-day week for some of its 36 staff in early 2021, after "the pandemic pushed us to rethink", said its chief executive Louisa Lee.

She added that the clinic's patient relations executives and dental surgery assistants typically used to work two long days of 11½ hours, two eight-hour days, and one day on a weekend.

"Often during exit interviews, we were told that the long hours were too tiring," she said.

Since the change, staff on the four-day week do two long days and two normal days, of which one is on a weekend. "They forgo the yearly increment but continue to receive their salaries in full," said Ms Lee.

"The team welcomed the four-day work week, especially mothers with young children... The team is generally happier," she added.

DP Dental's chief executive Louisa Lee (centre) with staff. DP Dental implemented the four-day week for some of its 36 staff in early 2021.

Tech company Salesforce declared last month that it would close its global offices every Friday for the rest of this year.

The company has adopted flexible and remote work but stopped at shorter work weeks.

Mr Sujith Abraham, its general manager for South-east Asia, said: "We've already seen increased productivity through this approach.

"We onboarded more than 25,000 employees virtually since the onset of the pandemic. A recent study we conducted found that a work-from-home and hybrid work strategy reduces emissions per employee by 29 per cent."

Last year, the PropertyGuru Group began 'Compressed Work Week', letting employees compress their full week's working hours into four days a week or nine days a fortnight, with no change in pay. It also gave employees options to work fewer days, or fewer hours per week, at pro-rated pay under 'Part-Time Work'.

Mr Tracy said: "A small group of companies will experiment and embrace the four-day week early on. Others will wait and see, and some will flat out reject this model."

Correction note: This article has been updated to include more details on PropertyGuru's flexible work programmes.


Source: The Straits Times