Study highlights shifting employee concerns and priorities post COVID-19

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Almost half of Singaporeans have returned to the office full-time to work even though more than 80 per cent prefer some form of flexible work arrangement, while finance-related worries in Singapore far outpaced the rest of the region, UOB’s latest ASEAN Consumer Sentiment Study (ACSS) 2022 showed.

The study surveyed almost 3,500 members of the public over five ASEAN countries (Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam) in June 2022 on five different domains, namely societal progress, individual financial behaviour and career prospects, consumers’ digital evolution, sustainability and future financial trends.

Mr Dean Tong, Head of Group Human Resources, UOB, said, “The ACSS 2022 people-related findings has shown that there is a disconnect between employers and staff, especially in the working arrangement and job stress domains, as we enter a new work landscape post-COVID-19.”

“Given the shifting norms for work, employers and staff must find a middle ground for both to remain productive and happy.”

Flexible work arrangements

Nearly half (46 per cent) of more than 1,000 Singaporeans surveyed said they had resumed a five-day work week in the office, while slightly over a quarter (27 per cent) were only required to return for a certain number of days in a week or month. Only one in 10 (11 per cent) said they could work entirely from home. This trend is largely consistent across the four other countries surveyed as well.

However, this is disparate from what employees want in terms of work arrangements. Four in five (81 per cent) respondents indicated that they would prefer some form of flexible work, with almost half of this group choosing a flexible arrangement depending on needs as opposed to a fixed number of days in the office, and working from home fully.

Time saved from commuting, increased savings and flexibility to attend to personal needs were the top reasons Singaporeans cited for preferring to work from home.

Singaporeans’ desire for a flexible work arrangement is so strong that nearly four in 10 (39 per cent) are willing to forgo between 10 – 50 per cent of their bonuses for flexible work arrangements, with a similar percentage (40 per cent) open to trading 10 – 50 per cent of their paid leave for the same as well.

Work stress

On a regional level, Singaporeans’ finance-related worries topped all countries surveyed, exceeding the regional’s average by more than 10 percentage points.

Climbing interest rates, soaring inflation and global supply chain woes have raised costs of living across ASEAN, but possible factors that may have further elevated financial anxiety among Singaporeans could include rising housing costs as well as the impending GST hikes in the next two years, which will see rates increase from 7 per cent to 8 per cent in 2023, and 9 per cent the year after.

Work-related anxiety was Singaporeans’ second-highest worry after finance. Reflecting the uncertain and volatile economic climate, the ability to find a job was the biggest work-related concern, followed by the possibility of losing bonuses or annual wage supplements, and the fear of a close family member losing his/her job.

However, as the country emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, Singaporeans’ concern about losing their jobs or having their pay cut eased somewhat (-5 per cent for both) from 2021 levels, but the year-on-year reduction was still less than the regional average (-13 per cent and -14 per cent respectively).

Nearly half of all Singaporeans (46 per cent) reported feeling mentally stressed at work, with more than one in two Gen Zs (55 per cent) responding as such. Highest on the wishlist of all age demographics is flexible working hours from their employers, but Gen Zs’ second and third priorities differed markedly from the rest.

While the rest of the working community listed the ability to encash unused annual leave and options for flexible workload as their next most desired forms of employer support, Gen Z ranked sabbatical leave and an after-hours policy for work communication second and third instead.

Mr Tong said, “Gen Zs differing priorities mean that employers will have to adopt a different approach to attract and retain young talent.”

Job stability

In a more reassuring statistic for companies, close to two in three Singaporeans (62 per cent) are not looking to change employers for the rest of the year, preferring stability to taking their chances during uncertain economic conditions. Among the age groups, Gen Ys were the most restless, with nearly one in two (45 per cent) declaring wantaway desires.

Pragmatism prevails over values and ideals for workers in Singapore, with decent salary and benefits, good work-life balance and job stability ranked as the most important factors in a job, while having a well-known/established brand, working in an exciting and challenging role, and promoting inclusivity and diversity were not key priorities.

The results should give corporate inclusivity and diversity champions pause, given the limited traction their cause seems to be having among the rank-and-file currently.