Flexibility may be the answer

Making it work: Mother-of-two Bibi Zulaikha Misbahul Munir, 31, seen here with her 10-month-old son Noah Elias Ammar, is an entrepreneur who works from home. She hopes that in time, more women will be able to juggle their full-time employment with flexible working arrangements and parenting duties.

PETALING JAYA: Flexible working arrangements (FWAs) like those introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic are here to stay, and all stakeholders must consider them to meet the needs of today’s younger generation, say employers.

FWAs and working from home (WFH) are the way forward for the future as Covid-19 has changed the way organisations are set up and operate, said Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) president Datuk Dr Syed Hussain Syed Husman.

The FWA is still a relatively new concept in Malaysia and a lot more awareness about it needs to be raised, so the government should support more companies in adopting and sustaining FWA.

This includes conducting FWA awareness programmes to educate employers on all types of FWAs and how such arrangements can meet their business needs and be used as a strategy to attract and retain employees.

More discussions on, and sharing of, good practices of FWA implementation that can mutually benefit employees and employers should also be conducted, he said.

“There is also a need to create and establish a conducive environment for FWA to be implemented in relevant workplaces.

“The government should also provide clear guidelines on the rights and obligations of organisations, such as making decisions about employees’ requests for FWAs, guidelines on when to reject employees’ applications, consequences for employers who fail to comply with reasonable FWA requests, and an appeal process if applicable,” said Syed Hussain.

The government could provide information and awareness about compliance and governance related to FWAs, including safety and health, good practices, work-related accidents that happen during FWAs such as working from home, and cybersecurity threats, he said.

He added that existing regulations in the Employment Act 1955 should accommodate provisions for FWAs, such as in Section 60a, on the terms and conditions of working hours, holidays, rest periods, wages and overtime, to complement FWA models.

The government should also offer flexibility and relax some regulations that may affect companies’ ability to implement certain types of FWAs, while tax measures, including purchase of software and hardware to enable employees to go on FWAs, could also be introduced, said Syed Hussain.

“Human resources departments and heads of departments must also be equipped with knowledge to develop FWA policies that define eligibility, expectations and responsibilities,” he said.

Syed Hussain was commenting on a new report by the United Nations’ International Labour Organisation which found that FWAs are not only good for employees, but also boost productivity, and potentially, a business’s bottom line.

The report also found that teleworking and other FWAs helped maintain employment and encouraged more employee autonomy, while restricting flexibility increased costs, including due to increased staff turnover.

Syed Hussain added, however, that not all workplaces can implement FWAs as some jobs must be done on site, such as in the manufacturing and services sector.

“Each organisation or industry has to look at its requirements and design FWAs or WFH to suit its needs. No one size or type can be applied as different organisations have different needs.

“But FWAs and WFH are here to stay and all stakeholders must look into these arrangements to meet the needs of today’s younger generation,” he said.

National Association of Human Resources Malaysia president Zarina Ismail also agreed that WFAs is the working style that will resonate the most with the younger generation.

“Currently, more companies are doing what’s best to recover economically and are not concerned about making a shift towards FWAs yet.

“But this will need to be considered and looked into if they want to retain young talents, who prefer the flexibility offered by FWAs and WFH,” she said.

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