The work-life balance of employees in Singapore’s financial services sector is improving, according to a new survey – though separate figures suggest engagement among the country’s broader workforce remains alarmingly low.

Research from recruitment company Robert Half found that 68 per cent of Singaporean CFOs within financial services said the work-life balance of their employees had improved compared to three years ago.

The annual study surveyed 75 CFOs and finance directors and is part of an international workplace survey looking at broader talent management issues.

Nine in ten (91 per cent) employers acknowledged that better work-life balance had a positive impact on performance at work.

And the overwhelming majority (97 per cent) of financial services firms claimed they were actively encouraging a positive work-life balance among their staff. Examples of initiatives they have undertaken include additional leave and holidays, flexible work hours, restricting use of mobile devices outside office hours and shortening working hours.

Matthieu Imbert-Bouchard, managing director of Robert Half Singapore, said: “With financial services being a fast-paced environment, obtaining work-life balance is not only highly beneficial for employees, as it helps reduce stress and increase job satisfaction, but it also brings advantages to companies that go beyond increased productivity.

“Organisations who prioritise and actively promote work-life balance initiatives have a competitive edge in the war for talent as they frame themselves as an employer of choice.”

Imbert-Bouchard recommended that employers discourage a ‘workaholic’ attitude and restrict employee access to the workplace outside regular office hours.

“While some overtime may be expected during peak times on the business calendar, financial services workers should not be encouraged to sacrifice their personal and family commitments for the sake of their careers,” he said.

The survey also revealed that 29 per cent of employers said work-life balance had remained the same over the past three years, with just three per cent reporting it had decreased over that period.

Singapore has long-standing and well-documented issues with work-related stress, many of which have been attributed to the country’s notorious long working hours culture.

And though employers may say they are promoting a better balance between professional and personal lives, Aon’s 2018 Trends in Global Employee Engagement suggested Singaporeans continue to be among the least engaged employees in the Asia Pacific region.

The report analysed more than eight million employees across more than 1,000 organisations worldwide and founded that employee engagement globally bounced back to 65 per cent last year, largely due to improvement in the Asia Pacific region – most notably China, India and Japan, all of which recorded 2 per cent rises in engagement.

At the other end of the spectrum, only 59 per cent of employees in Singapore said they were actively engaged, making the country’s workforce among the least engaged in Asia.

The study suggested there is a particular need for Singaporean employers to engage the millennial workforce. Only 56 per cent of full-time millennials in the country are engaged, down two per cent on last year.

‘Career opportunities’ topped the list of engagement drivers in Singapore, followed by ‘senior leadership’, ‘enabling infrastructure’, ‘work-life balance’ and ‘talent and staffing’.

Boon Chong Na, managing director and partner at Aon Hewitt Singapore, said: “While there is no one-size-fits-all employee experience that will maximise engagement, forward-thinking organisations can identify the drivers that are most important for their employees and create a fit-for-purpose experience.

“What’s more, increasing engagement is a shared responsibility – senior leadership must encourage team members to own their engagement levels, by creating an environment where employees are empowered to develop new skills, chart their career journeys and maximise their potential.”

The survey also found that engagement in Hong Kong remained flat, while three of the region’s biggest markets – Thailand, Australia and South Korea – recorded a one per cent drop.

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