Bosses should consider WFH in trying times

By Mohd Noor Musa

NON-monetary benefits or rewards as the term suggests, are non-cash benefits offered by employers to their staff. Flexible working arrangements, compliments for a job well done and extra time-off are some of the strong incentives that can definitely boost employees’ engagement and productivity.

At this present time where the majority of Malaysians is affected by increases in the price of goods and services, high cost of living, extreme hot weather and a host of other perennial bread-and-butter issues, employers can play a more meaningful role by offering such rewards to ease not only their workers’ burden but also their respective businesses.

With most areas in Malaysia in the grip of a heatwave and people being financially affected by the high cost of living, bosses should embrace home working to help staff stay comfortable, at the same time, remain productive.

Based on projections, some Malaysians might have to endure more than 240 days a year in temperatures above 35 degrees Celsius in the 2050s. More extreme weather conditions could be linked to climate change where higher temperatures will lead to increased wind speeds.

Many acute ailments, including respiratory and cardiovascular as well as issues with reproductive health, are made worse by heat. Some jobs have become exposed as a result of the ‘non-stop’ economy and the contemporary management of working time.

Some 13 cases of heat-related sickness were reported by the Ministry of Health (MoH) between the first and ninth of the epidemiological week. Of that number, four were heatstroke cases while another nine were related to heat exhaustion. All cases resulted from outdoor physical activities during hot weather conditions.

Although the Malaysian National Policy on Climate Change acknowledges the effects of climate change could affect human well-being and the environment, nevertheless, the policy does not explicitly mention mental health caused by it.

Eco-anxiety or distress caused by post-traumatic climate change could make people anxious and uncertain about their future. If workers suffer from severe anxiety, sustaining themselves psychologically or physically will be challenging. Thus, eco-anxiety and climate anxiety emerge as potential problems for environmental and sustainability literacy, depending on their manifestations.

These factors exemplify significantly impact the well-being and productivity of employees, especially those working in non-air-conditioned environments. In such situations, offering flexible working arrangements can be beneficial for both employees and the organisation.

Nowadays, more workers are calling for the option to work remotely, or at least flexibility that allows them to do so out of necessity. This is especially true in densely populated cities like the Klang Valley where commuting times can reach two or three hours a day.

Our local talent is aware of the vast expansion and scope of work that can be done remotely – thanks to technology. They are actively looking for employers who can provide them with this balance as they are becoming more and more conscious of such talents.

A survey conducted by UCSI Poll Research Centre last year revealed that only four in 10 Malaysians were happy with work-life balance while over half regularly clocking more than eight hours a day.

According to the study, a significant proportion of Malaysian employees find themselves working beyond their prescribed hours of duty. All these call for empathic leadership in workplace which involves understanding, valuing and responding to the emotions and needs of the employers.

The top-down approach is the only method to bring about a structural change in an organisation that will enable a greater work-life balance. Changing an organisation’s culture to encourage and enable flexibility is a long-term approach linked to actual business objectives of productivity and general employee satisfaction and engagement. It is not a quick fix.

Since the Movement Control Order (MCO) was announced in Malaysia on 18 March 2020 following the outbreak of Covid-19, all organisations, except the essential sectors, were directed to work from home (WFH), aimed at breaking the chain of COVID-19. Prior to that, WFH was not a common practice in Malaysia.

Remote work has emerged as a critical factor in the labour market, providing workers with greater flexibility and work-life balance. With remote work, employees no longer need to commute to a physical office, freeing up time and reducing stress levels.

A report by Appcast, an international digital recruitment agency, found that motivated by remote work, higher wages and increased benefits, the labour force expanded by 2.5 million workers in 2022. The findings were based on an analysis of over 255 million jobs ad clicks and 12 million applications.

According to the Randstad Employer Brand Research, 37 per cent of Malaysians would take a pay cut to work from home. The survey involving 2,524 respondents, aged between 18 and 64 years old, also revealed that 40 per cent of the respondents prefer a hybrid mode due to its flexibility and require personal time. An overwhelming workload was the most cited factor that threatened work-life balance for 73 per cent of respondents.

Employers, therefore, must give their workers the flexibility to work where and when they are the most productive. The benefits of working from home are obvious to employers as it will cut operational cost.

For employees, they save the time they would have to spend commuting and improved their well-being. All these will promote nothing else but sustained, inclusive, productive employment and decent work for all.

Mohd Noor Musa is a Research Analyst at Institut Masa Depan Malaysia (MASA)


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