Flexible work arrangements: Is Malaysia ready? 

06 February 2023

In partnership with TalentCorp and Prudential BSN Takaful (PruBSN), Mercer recently conducted a webinar exploring Malaysia’s readiness to adopt flexible work arrangements. Here are some of the key points discussed.
 If done right, flexible work arrangements will provide a win-win situation for both employers and employees, as needs are met on both sides. 

Talent Strategy Lead, Mercer Malaysia

The onset of the pandemic in 2020 prompted many organizations in Malaysia — and the entire world — to adapt to remote working quickly. This experience made organizations realize that the shift to remote work on a more permanent basis (for specific functions within their organizations) was feasible and meant that they didn’t have to compromise productivity. Some organizations, such as TalentCorp and PruBSN, have been longstanding advocates for flexible work arrangements, recognizing the benefits of meeting individuals’ needs and empowering employees to work anywhere and at their preferred time. But for many organizations, making the shift to a remote workforce was a new and challenging experience. While most multinational corporations were able to adopt flexible work arrangements when Malaysia went into its first phase of the Movement Control Order, many small to medium enterprises (SMEs) struggled to transition to remote working — and continue to do so. These challenges underscore the need for Malaysian government support in driving initiatives to make flexible work arrangements feasible as a permanent option.

Going virtual — spotlight on mental well-being

Flexible working can reduce employee stress and burnout, promoting healthy harmonization between work and personal lives. But without the right policies in place, serious issues can arise — for instance, employees feeling overworked as the line between work and life gets blurred with remote working. In addition, the abrupt shift to remote work brought by the pandemic shined a spotlight on employees’ mental well-being, raising concerns, for example, about rising suicide and divorce rates in 2020. These troubling statistics prompted company leaders to find more ways to support their employees. Creating a culture that is conducive to flexible work arrangements depends on leaders showing empathy for their people.
Getting the pulse on point and closer to the heart is key. What we learned in early 2021 when we conducted our employee engagement survey is that people were very appreciative of the organization for how we responded and supported our people during the pandemic.
Muzni Mohamad

Chief Human Resources Officer, Prudential BSN Takaful

The pandemic pushed organizations into the new ways of working, where lot of work needed to be done virtually, even work formerly always done in person. At PruBSN, for example, talent onboarding and talent assessments are now done virtually and remotely, which tests the agility and capability of the organization, including its people. These shifts and challenges make it clear that going virtual is not as straightforward as it might appear. It’s crucial to rally the organization’s top team, including senior leaders, to make “going virtual” work. As Muzni Mohamad, Chief Human Resources Officer at PruBSN, notes, “Because everything is done remotely and virtually, in building trust, you have to make it intentional because it is no longer about going into a room and having coffee together. One of our employee engagement initiatives involves having our leaders partake in exchange sessions with our new joiners. In these sessions, our leaders get to share their highlights and lowlights in new ways of working, and this allows the leaders to demonstrate their vulnerability and show that they are equally human."

Employee listening in the forefront

Going virtual is becoming the norm. It will be critical to consistently gauge employees’ mental well-being as they continue to work remotely. Adopting an employee listening strategy can help employers prioritize issues, identify risks and put the right solutions in place. Because many organizations today employ a multigenerational workforce, conducting employee listening can help companies uncover potential challenges in implementing remote working across their organizations. It’s important to remember that what works for some employees may not work for others. For example, some individuals may prefer to keep their work and life separate; they may find they are more productive if they work at the company office instead of at home.
Listen to your people. Listen to understand the challenges they are facing. Have that survey or focus group done immediately, and you will understand what those challenges are.
Vaffa Chau

Manager, Malaysian Professional Talent, TalentCorp

The pandemic has changed the overall landscape — in response, PruBSN has made significant shifts by revisiting their organization’s purpose and refreshing its core values to help people get the most out of life. Working collaboratively across the organization and conducting culture champion workshops helped PruBSN better understand its people’s concerns and needs.

The future of flexible work arrangements in Malaysia

In a 2020 study by TalentCorp and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Malaysia, which included 1,021 employees and 231 employers, 60% of respondents reported their productivity increased or remained the same when working remotely. And over 60% of respondents said remote work has improved their quality of life. In particular, women (who often assume a caregiver role at home) felt their quality of life improved because working remotely helped them better manage work and family commitments.

The TalentCorp and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Malaysia study also found that 83% of employees are considering working remotely as a permanent arrangement in the future. In addition, more employers are thinking about moving to a hybrid work model, which allows employees to alternate between working at the office and remotely. Although it’s important to note that not all jobs can be done remotely, many can — and employees and employers are starting to recognize this new reality.

Key takeaways

Flexible work arrangements will soon become a permanent option for many employees in Malaysia. However, a deeper conversation still needs to happen between managers and their team members to determine which roles should turn into remote-working roles permanently. Also, the government must proactively provide more support to SMEs that are still struggling to transition to a fully remote or hybrid model. 

No longer simply a “perk” to attract and keep employees, workplace flexibility has become the expectation for both employees and employers. And this is unlikely to change anytime soon. Although Malaysia still has a way to go on its journey toward workplace flexibility, it won’t be long until the ripples caused by the great remote-working experiment become waves of broad-scale change. Therefore, aside from encouraging and seeking government support for greater workplace flexibility, companies must look within, embracing the mindset change needed to make flexible work arrangements not only possible but beneficial for their people and organization.

1 Of the employers who participated in the study, 79% were small to medium enterprises (SMEs) whose employees had no prior work-from-home experience.
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