Work-Life Harmony Starts at the Top

At OCBC, employees receive full support to utilise flexible work arrangements. One leader tells us why, and how the organisation makes it work.

29 Jan 2020 Interviews Work-life harmony Best practices

Ms Teo Sze Ling

Ms Teo Sze Ling, Vice President, Global Enterprise Banking, EmB Business Compliance, OCBC Bank.

Q: What is your leadership philosophy regarding work-life harmony?

One of the organisation's employer brand values - caring - is deeply ingrained in our culture. A lot of this is really based on trust between manager and the employee, and between the employee and the organisation.

When employees know that the organisation and its managers care for them beyond the office and the work they do, they are likely to be more engaged. Engaged employees are more productive and tend to stay longer with their employers. This creates a win-win situation for both employer and employee. 

I have personally benefitted from OCBC's work-life programme, and this has made me an advocate for the programmes we have here. 

Q: How has this philosophy influenced your work plans and decisions, and how do you consciously create a culture that supports and facilitates it?

I encourage my team members to consider taking flexible work arrangements (FWAs), or utilise the organisation's leave schemes or breaks should they need to take care of issues at home. 

However, it is sometimes not easy to convince individuals that their absence will not negatively impact the organisation because the team will be there to ensure smooth operations, or that their career progress will not be affected when they return. 

Addressing their concerns starts with our organisational culture - a deep-seated culture of caring for our people. This, coupled with trust between employees that their colleagues would do the same for them when faced with similar situations, really helps employees to be supportive of one another, through good times, as well as not so good times. 

At OCBC, there are many personal stories about how people have progressed, despite taking FWAs, across all levels and jobs types. These stories are often shared in our internal employee magazines and at events such as International Women's Day, leadership panel discussions, as well as on social media. 

Active listening also helps us resolve some of these issues. For example, OCBC offers childcare services within the bank's compound, as well as lactation rooms. This allows parents and new mothers in the workplace to better manage their work and family commitments. 

We also bring courses in-house and conduct them within office hours, rather than take time outside work hours. This makes it easier for everyone to upgrade their skills, because traveling out of office or going for external courses is not a viable solution for some employees. 

Q: Some believe that it is difficult to keep employees engaged and facilitate teamwork if they do not see one another at work regularly. How do you ensure that there are effective touchpoints for staff who are on FWAs, and continue to cultivate teamwork among co-workers? 

We have technological tools to facilitate virtual meetings to help us stay in touch, such as Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, or mobile chat messengers. We are well-connected and can stay in touch, whenever we are. 

On that note, I think what is more important is allowing space for employees to be 'out of touch' and to respect their time-off, vacation, weekends and so forth. We should not expect employees to be always-on and available. 

Q: What trends do you foresee in the work-life arena? Any tips for leaders on preparing for such trends?

The future of work will require and encourage more use of technology and deeper specialised skillsets. Leaders need to start advocating changes within the workplace and encouraging adoption of technology as well as developing skills for the future. It will be challenging to find the right balance between taking time to train our staff to prepare them for their future and at the same time, ensuring that they are performing their current tasks well. Nevertheless, deliberate and continuous action has to be taken to ensure a future-ready workforce.