Implementing strategies to increase workforce participation and productivity are important elements to growing the economy and business success. Changing the way we think about work and how employees participate in the workforce is happening around the world. Malaysia’s new focus on increasing flexible work opportunities is good for employees and their families, and is also a very positive step for Malaysian business and the economy. Increasing opportunities to work flexibly are good for all employees as it can give them the opportunity to manage their work and family commitments. In particular, it can enable women to continue to be part of the workforce.
When flexible work policies are well implemented, employers reduce their recruiting costs, experience improved productivity, and help to retain staff with vital corporate knowledge and skills. In short, flexible work can benefit the bottom line. Malaysia recognised the importance of increasing workforce participation and has established flexWorkLife.my initiative, a collaboration between the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development and Talent Corporation Malaysia, to facilitate the return of women to the workforce. Malaysia has made good progress in this area over the past few years with a 6.8 per cent increase in the rate of women of working age participating in the workforce since 2010. However, there is an understanding that with a participation rate of just under 55 per cent, there remains a significant opportunity to grow the number.
A study from the World Bank suggests Malaysia could achieve an economic growth dividend of about 0.4 per cent a year by attaining higher female participation rate in the workforce. Implementing flexible work practices is not without its challenges and businesses have a leading role to play in developing policies that encourage their employees to seek flexible work arrangements. Initiatives like flexWorkLife.my can assist in shifting attitudes towards flexible work. A recent survey conducted by CPA Australia in Malaysia and across the Asia Pacific showed many men and women have a negative perception of the impact working flexibly could have on their career prospects.
The survey showed that regardless of gender more than a quarter of respondents with flexible work arrangements believed it would have a negative impact on their prospects for promotion. The results were somewhat more positive in Malaysia than Australia and Hong Kong, with respondents from Malaysia less likely to believe that working flexibly would negatively impact promotion chances (20 per cent) than respondents from Australia (35 per cent) and Hong Kong (31 per cent). Respondents from Malaysia were also more likely to believe that flexible work would have a positive impact on the quality of work they perform (36 per cent) than respondents from Australia (20 per cent) and Hong Kong (24 per cent). On the other hand, Australian respondents were significantly more likely to have requested flexible work arrangements (72 per cent) than respondents from Hong Kong (35 per cent) and Malaysia (44 per cent).
While the survey results and the Government’s flexWorkLife.my initiative are positive indications on flexible work in Malaysia, there is room for further changes to business culture. Many employers have made much of their desire to increase opportunities for workplace flexibility, but unfortunately it would seem the employee experience is not matching up to some of the rhetoric from employers. Having the right policies in place is only part of the solution. T
he culture of an organisation, the leadership’s commitment to the policies and their consistent implementation throughout the business is critical. From this year publicly listed companies in Malaysia are being required to disclose the gender representation of board members and key senior management in their annual reports. This additional disclosure is a positive step. We need to maximise our levels of workforce participation. Creating workplace practices that allow maximum participation is both economically and socially beneficial.
Source: New Strait Times, 25 April 2016