MEF disputes global index score on work-life balance

Personal time: According to MEF, most Malaysian companies allow their employees to enjoy a good degree of work-life balance. — FAIHAN GHANI/The Star

PETALING JAYA: A majority of Malaysian companies have flexible work arrangements to help employees balance their career and personal life, says a leading employers group, disputing a recent global index that gave the country the second worst score on work-life balance.

While individual work-life balance can vary, Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) said it is essential for employees to excel in their roles without compromising their personal life, as this balance enables both employee and employer to achieve success.

MEF president Datuk Dr Syed Hussain Syed Husman said Malaysian companies have made progress in adopting flexible work practices and policies.

“The MEF Survey on Flexible Work Arrangements: Assessing Practices and Perspectives of Private Sector Employers in May 2024 revealed a progressive trend among Malaysian companies in adopting flexible work arrangements (FWA).

“Approximately 60% of respondent companies have introduced FWA in their workplaces. This indicates a significant shift towards a more adaptable and employee-friendly work environment.

“More than half of these companies offer FWA to those who apply, showing a willingness to accommodate individual employee needs and preferences.

“This flexibility can lead to higher job satisfaction, improved work-life balance and enhanced overall productivity, as employees can tailor their work schedules to suit their personal life,” he said in an interview yesterday.

The surveyed companies, he said, offered not only flexible work but also generous leave policies, enabling employees to take breaks that reduce stress and burnout.

“The companies further demonstrate commitment to employee wellbeing through wellness programmes focused on health, fitness and mental health initiatives,” he added.

Syed Hussain disputed the findings of the recent global work-life balance index by global human resource services company Remote that ranked Malaysia 59 out of 60 – the second worst country for work-life balance among nations with the highest gross domestic product (GDP).

“MEF has reservations about the usefulness of this index, as the selection of indicators includes metrics not relevant to evaluating work-life balance, making the comparison inaccurate.

“The selection of metrics used in the index was not fully relevant to evaluating and portraying true work-life balance, such as LGBTQ+ inclusivity.

“The comparison was too simplistic and did not provide the full context of the data, such as the comparison of minimum wages between developed and developing economies,” said Syed Hussain.

MEF also identified an inaccuracy in the data, as Malaysia should have gotten a 100% score on the metric for minimum statutory sick pay, as it is mandated by the Employment Act.

“Given these inadequacies, MEF suggests the report’s findings should be evaluated accordingly and not sensationalised,” he said.

In comparison, MEF’s survey indicated that overworking is not prevalent in Malaysia, with around 80% of companies reporting manageable workloads within regular working hours.

“This suggests that most employees can complete their tasks without needing to work overtime, aligning with a balanced approach to work-life integration,” he said.

“Manageable workloads also suggest employers are conscious of not overburdening employees, fostering a healthier work environment.”

He added that adequate leave and manageable workloads show the private sector’s efforts to support employee wellbeing and work-life balance.

“This is further reflected in the amended reduction of the statutory weekly work hours from 48 to 45 in the Employment Act since Jan 2023,” he said.

However, Syed Hussain warned that Malaysia’s high number of public holidays and annual leave days, which can go up to 30 paid days per year, significantly impacts operational costs and efficiency.

“The frequent additional public holidays require companies to pay employees three to four times the daily wage for working on those days, escalating labour costs,” he sai.d

“The situation is compounded by existing labour shortages, straining the available workforce.

“The high number of public holidays and leave days in Malaysia hinders our competitiveness by escalating labour costs for employers.

“This pushes companies to find innovative strategies to manage operational disruptions while promoting employee wellbeing,” he said.

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