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Mrs Jacinta Lim (Source : West Spring Primary School Facebook account).

Teachers of West Spring Primary School banned to work outside working hours to have work-life balance

West Spring Primary School has made exceptional rules to ensure its staff’s happiness by balancing work time and private time.

Mrs Jacinta Lim, principal of the school, implemented the rule of banning teachers from replying work-related e-mails and texts before 7.30 am and after 5 pm on weekdays. They are also not allowed to do so over the weekend.

She also gives two days in the work week when teachers are allowed to leave for home immediately after class at about 2 pm.

The rules were implemented at the time when Mrs Jacinta became the principal of the school, which opened in 2014.

In an interview with The New Paper, she said, “It stems from my personal conviction that a good balance of work and private time is important. When my staff is well rested, they will be happy teachers. When they are happy, the children will be in good hands. It’s what I tell parents during briefings too.”

The principal won a Work-Life Leadership Award by the Tripartite Committee on Work-Life Strategy in 2014, while the school was named one of the 15 exemplary employers by Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (Tafep) in 2016.

Mrs Jacinta said that there were some parents who disagreed with her approach. However, she does not relent to them, saying, “If we take things easy and sway, parents may grow to become demanding. At the end of the day, it’s about mutual respect.”

Mrs Jacinta also said that she has to make sure that everybody follows the rules that have been set. She said, “The moment you start giving in a little. Eventually, nobody is going to adhere to the rule. For me, I play the role of the gatekeeper to ensure things don’t get moved down to the teachers.”

The principal added that there are always teachers who are very nice and see it as their responsibility to respond to parents on weekends or at night. Therefore, she stressed that there is a limit and that’s where she will draw the line.

However, many of them also agreed with the rules. Madam Irene Lim told TNP, “Teachers already spend long hours in school. They also have their personal time and a family to take care of after school. It doesn’t mean that we can disturb them every time just because we have their number.”

One of the teachers of the school, Lim Ker Wee, 39, told TNP that even though many of his friends suggested to him to not give away his mobile number, he said that the landscape is changing.

He stressed that the relationship between the teachers and parents are based on mutual respect.

He said, “I will let my class know that my number is available to all, but their parents must also know when is the right time to contact me. Once we agree on that, I don’t see a problem.”

The Ministry of Education (MOE) has given guidelines on educators’ interaction with parents and the community.

Under the Code of Professional Conduct, the guidelines allow educators’ to build mutual trust and respect with parents in making decisions that are best for the child and exercise professional integrity and judgment in communicating and working with parents.

In the past, Member of Parliaments (MPs) such as Muhamad Faisal Bin Abdul Manap (MP for Aljunied) has urged the Government to consider work-life balance policies, asking for the official working hours to be reduced from 46 hours to 40 hours.

Other MP’s such as Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister for Social and Family Development, has spoken about flexible working hours being a more pragmatic solution to promote work-life balance. He said that telecommuting or flexible working hours can allow employees “to find the right fit that suits their personal needs”.

There have been policies put into place such as the Work-Life Grant, which promotes work-life harmony and flexible work arrangements, as well as the U Flex Family-Friendly Grant, which aims to encourage employers to cultivate progressive workplaces through providing help and support when they employ mature workers and back-to-work locals, or place their employees on flexible work arrangements (FWAs).

However, despite policies put into place, a recent survey by Emolument.com showed that 47% of Singaporean employees found work-life balance in Singapore awful. On top of that, based on gender, 9% more women than men think their work-life balance is bad.

According to Singapore Business Review, Emolument.com COO Alice Leguay said, “Upcoming generation Y and Z are certainly expecting more flexibility, less face-time, and rather than having to account for half-day annual leave, attending school plays or meetups, expect to be trusted to do the job on their terms,” she said.

She added, “In some industries, implementing such a shift in perception and practice is still a long way off as client demands in terms of reactivity and timeliness remain unchanged. However, employers understand that dissatisfaction with work-life balance is more and more likely to be a reason for quitting, and that higher pay struggles to compensate for time spent away from family and friends.'”

On the other hand, in an article on The Business Times, it was reported last year that 35 percent of respondents stated that long working hours were having a significant impact and required them to make sacrifices in terms of their personal and family life.

According to the survey conducted, roughly two-thirds of the respondents feel obliged to work longer than their contracted hours. However, this was 10 percent less than in the 2014 survey. While 80 percent of the people said that they were more productive working beyond their contracted hours, 90 percent of them are not paid for their hours put into overtime.