“It’s Not Part of My Job Description” – Working with Malaysians

Brian, a British expat living in Malaysia, receives an early morning email and walks over to one of his subordinates.
Brian:        Zul, Nadia is on leave but one of her clients has just called up and requested for some information about their account. Can you help to do some research into the issue and respond to the client please?
Zul:             But I’ve never handled Nadia’s clients before. I’m not sure if I should.
Brian:       Yes, I know that, but they’re a key client and I don’t want them to wait until she’s back at the end of the week. Just find out what they need and send it over to them.
Zul:           Erm…okay.

Fifteen minutes later, Zul sends Brian an email with an attachment of his job description. Brian is furious at this perceived lack of respect and calls Zul into his office to give him a piece of his mind.

Have you had similar experiences where you tried to give more work to your Malaysian employees only to be greeted with an “It’s not my job” sort of response? Or perhaps you didn’t hear those exact words, but their facial expression and body language suggested they were not too thrilled with the extra responsibility?

In general, Malaysians are very comfortable operating within the guidelines set out in their job descriptions. When work has been agreed upon during the interview or hiring process, Malaysians will fulfil their various responsibilities without much issue. However, there is sometimes a hesitance to perform work that goes beyond their stated duties. If you are an expat looking to identify and groom future leaders, you will likely need to assign responsibilities outside of an individual’s job scope to gauge his or her readiness and potential. How can you motivate your Malaysian staff to take on more responsibilities with a willing attitude while feeling comfortable and secure in doing so? It will be crucial to consider the following points:

  1. Potential workload increase. Will the additional responsibilities significantly increase your employee’s workload? Those identified for leadership roles often have to take on heavier responsibilities and that might mean taking time away from their existing duties (or in some cases, working overtime). If job performance ratings are directly tied to the accomplishment of existing tasks, the additional roles and time required may result in a lack of enthusiasm in taking on the new role. If possible, reduce or reassign certain existing tasks so that your employee can devote more resources to taking on new responsibilities with a reasonable increase in workload. Doing so will show your employee that you are concerned with their overall growth and wellbeing.
  2. Compensation reflects level of responsibility. There is no denying that money plays an important factor in the willing acceptance of more responsibilities. If you are assigning important duties from someone with a much higher pay grade to another who earns significantly less, the discrepancy in compensation could cause dissatisfaction in your employee. While it is not always reasonable to increase one’s salary whenever additional responsibilities are given, there should be a plan in place within a reasonable timeframe to adjust your employee’s compensation accordingly to reflect the value of the employee to the company.
  3. Open and honest communication. The key to successfully helping your staff grow personally and professionally within the organization is to have open and honest communication with your staff. Instead of just outlining the new responsibilities, help them see the appeal of doing more than what is currently required. Take the time to explain how the company benefits, what is involved during the short term, how it will contribute to their growth and career in the long term, and what advantages or opportunities it offers to them when they step out of their comfort zone and reach out for more responsibilities. When they are helped to clearly see the benefits, they are more likely to respond readily to additional duties.

Implementing the above suggestions can help you to shape your company’s organizational culture into one that places importance on growth and sees the value of improving in skill, knowledge and responsibility. Even if your employee does not immediately respond positively to increased duties, you can continue to guide them at a more opportune time with the above suggestions. In our next topic, we will consider the perspective of the local Malaysian and see what steps can be taken to develop willingness and readiness for more responsibilities.

By: Boleh Blogger