Liang Dingzi

DBS Bank’s objection to Ms Josie Lau, vice-president for consumer banking group cards and unsecured loans, taking on the top post at women’s advocacy group Aware demonstrates antiquated thinking.

It raises the question of how far an employer can legitimately exercise control over employees’ external activities.

DBS said it supported Ms Lau’s involvement as a council member, but not as president. This is tantamount to not recognising her rights to private decisions on matters outside of work.

This could not have come at a worse time as Singapore looks to promote volunteerism as a way of life.

Not many companies, however, are as generous as DBS in supporting volunteer work even at the basic level. For good public relations as responsible corporate citizens, some firms structure community contributions into work schedules (lest there be a lack of volunteers on their own time), but they frown upon any involvement in activities that have nothing to do with the company.

Usually cited is the blanket concern that such activities will adversely affect performance at work. Such an argument puts the cart before the horse, because it depends on how each individual balances work with personal pursuits.

The choice should rest with the employee, who must then be prepared to face consequences when he or she underperforms. In fact, many companies already have in place measures to deal with poor performance, not necessarily the result of an employee’s involvement in volunteer work.

It is time companies realise they do not own their employees, body and soul. What they have a right to demand from staff is loyalty and to refrain from acts that will jeopardise the business of the company.

Few individuals can afford to do fulltime volunteer work, and few companies are able to offer opportunities for those inclined to expend their energy this way.

But there is more to life than just work. The more Singaporeans become involved in community activities, the stronger their pride of belonging. Nil or lukewarm corporate support only serves to smother that passion and check a development that could benefit society.

The world was impressed with the spirit of volunteerism displayed by China’s citizenry at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Singapore will have its opportunity at the Asian Youth Games and again at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games. It is critical that companies lend their support.

But support for only big national events is not enough. For Singapore to be a vibrant society where life can be lived meaningfully and with fulfilment, there should be more opportunities for individuals to take up challenges outside of work.

Companies that allow staff room to grow, not just within but also outside the company, will benefit from having in their employment more well-rounded individuals.

The writer is a management consultant.

Email your views to voices@mediacorp.com.sg

From TODAY, Voices – Thursday, 23-April-2009


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