Work-Life Balance: How Late Is a Malaysian Expected to Work?

While working in a multicultural workplace, you may observe a variety of concept of work-life balance.

While working in a multicultural workplace, you may observe a variety of concept of work-life balance.

As a foreigner working in Malaysia, have you found yourself in the situation below?

It’s 6pm and you see your colleague get up from his seat. Instead of leaving the office though, he heads toward the pantry to pour himself another cup of coffee and stays on for another hour or two before calling it a day.

For many Malaysians, this is a familiar story. We hear the term work-life balance very often, but finding the proper balance between work and lifestyle at times seems unattainable.  A study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) noted that “Asian countries tend to work the longest [hours], with the highest proportion of workers that are working excessively long hours of more than 48 hours a week.” This is especially true of Japan, where work culture can be so unforgiving that the term karoshi (death caused by overwork) was invented.

Governed by the Malaysia Employment Act 1955, employees are contracted to work 8 hours a day, not exceeding 48 hours in a week. However, there seems to be an unwritten rule to stay on a little longer after office hours or at least until the boss has left the office. A friend (who worked in the UK before returning to Malaysia) noted that when she left work on time in Malaysia, her boss would remark “Leaving so soon?” She found it strange that she had to justify her right to leave work on time.

Why might leaving the office on time be a real challenge?

  1. Working late is seen as a sign of being hardworking and committed to the company
  2. Hierarchical culture – higher ranked (boss) should leave office first
  3. Poor planning and lack of organization skills from both employer and employee
  4. Personal choice – get the job done at the earliest even if there is no real urgency

Interestingly, longer hours at work does not necessarily equate to improved productivity. Studies show that an organisation which values its employees and recognises the importance of work-life balance stands to win in terms of staff morale and commitment. By being productive during work hours and leaving on time, employees have time for life outside of work and it affords them a fresh perspective for the next day.

For non-Malaysians, you now know why you may receive disapproving looks from your Malaysian colleagues the next time you clock out on time. For managers, having this knowledge is beneficial if you are in a position to influence and create a more balanced work culture. Indeed, cultural training can help you to add value to your company while successfully coping with the cultural expectations of work in Malaysia.


By Boleh Blogger