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Despite long holidays and extensive parental leave, Swedes come up tops in productivity and globally, ranks second in innovation. Sweden’s Ambassador to Singapore HE Niclas Kvarnstrom explains the Swede’s approach, “Managing family life improves wellbeing and allows you to be both more creative - a secret of Swedish innovation - and schools you, in terms of using time efficiently.”

We spoke to two Swedish companies here to find out more…

Atlas Copco, a Swedish manufacturing firm with about 76 employees in their Singapore’s office, believes that a pro-family culture can steer the company away from directive policies which could be less inclusive and sometimes prohibitive in the workplace. Their HR works with the management and staff to create a flexible working environment to accommodate the needs of individual employees whilst maintaining a business focus.

Last year, Atlas Copco initiated ending work earlier at 4pm on Fridays, allowing staff to avoid the heavy traffic and get a head start on the weekend to spend time with their family and friends or simply to rest.

Cathering Taylor, HR manager at Atlas Copco, listed the motivation behind such initiatives, “the goal is to create an environment where people are happy, comfortable and feel valued. Enabling a flexible culture allows our staff to work without worrying about balancing home and work life. Less worry and a team spirit naturally improve business results. A happy work force is more productive, less likely to leave and less likely to have unplanned leave which can have a detrimental impact on our business.”

With a number of long-serving staff in Atlas Copco, Catherine let on that introducing changes are not met without challenges. Nonetheless, she is quick to point out that the company takes a flexible approach in the implementation process and has seen longer-term benefits which go beyond improved productivity and efficiency when embracing family-friendly practices in the company.

Well-known Swedish company IKEA Southeast Asia has more than 3,400 employees working in the region with about 900 people in Singapore. Corinna Schuler, Head of Corporate Communication at IKEA shared that IKEA’s vision to create better everyday life at home for their customers, is also translated to their belief of having a quality life at home for their co-workers.

Following their Swedish values, IKEA rolled out one-month paid paternity leave scheme for male employees across Southeast Asia in 2017, which can be taken at any time during the first six months following the birth or adoption of a baby.

To date, 34 fathers in Singapore have benefitted from this scheme. One of the fathers, Razi Mohd Ali from IKEA Business Sales shared, “that benefit gave me the opportunity to really experience the joy of being a new parent…I was able to take care of my baby when she woke up in the morning and put her to bed at night…and I was there for my wife as she was recovering from a difficult delivery.”

Corinna revealed that the new scheme was initially met with disbelief, especially with many external parties asking – how will you manage when men take extended leave?

Her reply, “Our answer to those questions was easy – we cope with the absence of a man in our business the same way we deal with the absence of a woman in our business. We ask other members of the team to step up or, if needed, hire temporary co-workers to fill in.”

In fact, the paternity leave provides the opportunity for other employees to step up and gain leadership experience in absence of their co-worker, ensuring a robust and sustainable business continuity plan.

As a major retailer that promises customers a great store experience, IKEA is expected to be especially busy on weekends and holidays. To help their staff balance the demands of work and family, IKEA reduced the standard working hours from 44 hours to 42.5 hours a week for all its staff. They also implemented a staff planning system which identifies staff’s availability and distributes the roster four weeks in advance to help staff plan their personal schedules effectively.

Sharing some words of advice for organisations who are taking the first step to be more pro-family, Ambassador Niclas says “the main thing is to focus on results and productivity, rather than time spent in the office. Don’t forget that parental leave typically occurs over 2-3 years of a person’s career -- that which is getting longer!”

Ambassador Niclas is a father to four kids and admits that it can be a challenge to be part of their everyday lives while juggling his duties as an Ambassador. He shared that guests at the Swedish residence are used to seeing kids join in the reception when dessert is served. On a personal note, he often prioritises important school events before some official functions.

“The benefit to my employer is that I am well-functioning and understand responsibility,” he says. “Plus there’s nothing more Swedish to promote than our gender equality, focus on kids, and our work-life balance.”

Employers play an important role in cultivating pro-family workplaces and encouraging a family-friendly culture. We hope more employers will come on board My Family Weekend 2019 initiative and join our efforts in nurturing a family-friendly workplace. Visit bit.ly/MFW2019 for more details.

Tags: Work-Life Harmony