SingaporeMotherhood | Parenting

November 2014

Helping Mothers Return to Work

Are you a stay-at-home-mum who gave up your career to raise her child? If so, you are one of the 31.8 per cent of females aged 25 and above whom the Labour Movement would like to help get back to work.

“In view of the longer life span of women and to ensure they have enough for their old age, it is important for women to stay employed and be economically resilient,” says Ms Sylvia Choo, Director of NTUC’s Women’s Development Secretariat.
Her top concern is the group of females aged 25 and above, where the employment rate of women pales in comparison to the employment rate of men.

Women and mothers, especially, are a priority. Many struggle with the physical and financial demands of raising children, and some of form of employment that can integrate both their needs for childcare and financial support is welcome. This economically inactive group also offers an alternative source of labour that employers can – and should – tap upon and start looking at how to attract back to the workforce. Many of them have prior working experience and need only minimal adjustments to return to the workforce.

The Labour Movement has designed measures to help. One priority is the Back2Work with U (B2W) Programme which is targeted at helping women to enter or re-enter the workforce.

This focuses not just on job placement but also on skills acquisition so that women can enjoy greater job and income stability and mobility, and build up their economic resilience.

Through the programme, women are kept abreast of the labour market situation and changes in technology, preparing them to cope with the changes.

The initiative works on what you could call a “3R framework”:

RECRUITMENT – finding you a suitable job

The Women’s Development Secretariat (WDS) organises recruitment events (such as job fairs, recruitment drives, jobs on wheels and others) to facilitate employment opportunities in women friendly-positions from employers across various sectors such as banking, call centre, education, food and beverage, healthcare, hospitality, retail, security and others.

RE-ADJUSTMENT – helping you adjust to work

WDS believes that training will help to address women job seekers’ fear of entering or re-entering the workforce. Through training, these women can gain self-awareness, build confidence, and learn more about current employment trends and options.

Training and re-skilling programmes focus on enhancing the employability of female job seekers, helping to place them into good paying jobs. Training programmes include the Train and Place initiatives for the Contact Centre, Educators and Attendants as well as Customer Service Professionals.

RETENTION – helping you juggle work and family needs

An organisation’s performance is highly intertwined with the well-being of its employees. Employees with a well-balanced work-life tend to be happier and more committed at the workplace. Work-life integration at the workplace is the key to achieving such win-win situations for both employers and employees.

WDS promotes work-life integration programmes to companies. Some of the key initiatives include the WorkPro and U Flex Funding Programme, Flexible Work Arrangements Workshop and Little Ones @ Work.


In countries like the UK and the US, flexible work arrangements have helped parents – mothers in particular – balance family and career. Little by little, some organisations in Singapore have begun to introduce such arrangements as well.
Last year, the NTUC recognised 16 companies in Singapore for their efforts in making flexible work arrangements (FWA) work for their employees and enabling them to achieve better work-life harmony in the inaugural Best Companies for Mums contest.

“We cannot emphasise enough on the benefits of flexiwork in Singapore,” says Ms Choo. “We have also seen SMEs coming forward to us on implementing FWAs for their employees. Thus the concept of the Flexible Work Arrangements Workshop – See Why, Know How and Try Now – will empower both employers and employees to all play their part for a successful work-life strategy. The U Flex Conference and Exhibition also encouraged employers to work towards a vibrant FWA culture.”

Still, more can be done to help make the Singapore workspace more mum-friendly, more women-friendly, more family-friendly.

This May, the Labour Movement introduced the U Flex Family-Friendly Grant. Created to encourage employers to implement family-friendly workplace practices, this $500,000 grant will help companies to defray the cost of implementing initiatives to help working parents and caregivers manage responsibilities both at work and at home.

For mothers, the benefits are obvious. Mothers who had quit their jobs to look after their babies can return to work when their children are older, taking on part-time or flexible working hours that will allow them to fulfil household and childcare needs after work. Mothers who are already working full-time and who are seeking a better work-life balance can opt for a flexi-work structure.

Ms Choo adds that the FWA allows for an all-inclusive workforce because employees are empowered to manage their work based on outcomes rather than face time. In developed countries, flexible work (flexi-work) arrangements have proven to be beneficial to both employers and employees.

Common flexi-work arrangements include: flexi-time, permanent part-time work, job-sharing, compressed work week, teleworking, and annualised hours. Here’s a quick guide to what they mean.

FLEXITIME – starting and ending work earlier

Employees choose their working times as long as they fulfill the number of hours required each week. Instead of working the standard 9am to 5pm work shift, an employee on flexitime may start work at 7am after dropping her child off at school, and leave the office at 3pm, in time to get home for dinner and to put the kids to bed.

At the NTUC WDS job fair last year, the Jay Gee Melwani Group targetted women aged 45 years and above with a “Golden Girls Scheme”. Under this arrangment, these ladies work 25 hours per week, earning $1,000 per month. They are not required to work on weekends and public holidays. The scheme has been successful, helping 41 women return to the workforce. This year, the Group extended the scheme to benefit a younger group of women (aged 30 years and above).

PART-TIME – working fewer hours a day

A part-time employee works a shorter rota of hours than a full-time one. In Singapore, a part-time employee is defined as one who, under his contract, works less than 30 hours a week. Part-time work can be arranged as follows:

• working normal hours but only two or three days a week.
• working every day, but with shortened hours, usually during the morning half of the workday, from 9am to 1pm.
• working alternate weeks.
• a combination of all the above.

Part-time work offers the employee increased free time and flexibility. There can be permanent and temporary part-time arrangements. A temporary arrangement – transition part-time – may be arranged for workers returning to work after a major life event such as a birth or the adoption of a child. In this case, the employee may work for a set number of hours per week over an agreed time period, eventually returning to full-time work.

COMPRESSED WORK WEEK – longer hours on some days, and days-off on others

This allows an employee to work full time hours over fewer than five days. An employee who has to work 40 hours per week may do 10 hours a day over four days, or 12 hours a day over three days and so on.

There are other ways to arrange a compressed work week. A medical testing laboratory offers its employees the option of working seven days a week for one week, then taking the next seven days off. Because each work day is 10 hours long, employees work, in effect, 70 hours over two weeks. The centre ensures smooth operations by pairing each worker with a partner who works his or her opposite schedule.

WORKING FROM HOME – work as you care for your child at home

More companies are now offering this option. At Tian Dot Com, which owns (that’s us) and, every employee works from home. We communicate through online messaging services, and meet up for meetings when necessary.

As a mother of young children, with no domestic or family help, this is an ideal set-up for me. I am able to contribute to family finances, watch my children grow, be there for them when they need me, and witness their milestone moments.

CO-WORKING SPACES – a work-space just for you

These are shared working environments that cater to work-from-home professionals, independent or freelance workers, and those who enjoy the synergy that comes from working in a shared location. Mothers who find it challenging to work at home because of distractions – chores calling, no proper workspace and so on – can dedicate several hours a day or a week to working at a co-working space like Woolf Works, an “all-female co-working space”.

Founder Michaela Anchan sees this space as an escape from kids and home inspired by author Virginia Woolf’s A Room Of One’s Own, a space where the creative writer could go to “whenever I needed to get out of the house to write”, she told TechInAsia.


Advocating for flexible work arrangements (FWA) continues to be one of the key aims of NTUC WDS. With all these options available,that fine balance between career and family can be achieved by all women.

“We will continue to push out a series of FWA-related events and workshops organised by WDS, as part of the U Flex Movement. Through these channels, we hope to educate and raise awareness amongst companies and employees on FWA. The barrier lies in the mindset, and if either party is willing to take the first step to make some adjustments to their workplace practices and accept flexibility in the workplace or to request for adjustments to be made to their work arrangements, FWA can definitely be a win-win solution for both employer and employee,” says Ms Choo.

This article is part of a series of labour movement initiatives brought to you by NTUC.

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Helping Mothers Return to Work