5 Contentious Topics You Should Avoid in the Malaysian Office — and Why

November 2, 2021
Nicholas K

Whether you’re working in the physical office or remotely, there are a couple of things that remain constant with regards to team communications. For one thing, it’s always important to always remain professional — even if the majority of 2021’s communications happened via virtual platforms and video calls due to the pandemic.

A big part of that professionalism comes down to ensuring that the workplace is an inclusive place for individuals from all walks of life, cultures, and backgrounds. And as employers and HR professionals, the burden of maintaining this environment falls upon your shoulders. So, how do you do that? 

For starters, here’s a quick guide on topics that you should avoid in the office — virtual, physical, or otherwise. 

1. Religion 

While religion may be a hotly-discussed topic everywhere (including Malaysia, in particular), it’s an area of discussion that can be treacherous to navigate. In the multicultural community that we live in today, there needs to be a certain amount of sensitivity when it comes to religion — this also applies to cultural discussions to an extent. 

As such, tread lightly when discussing religion — if you aren’t comfortable with this approach, it might be better to simply avoid the topic. You don’t need to hide your faith or religion, but you should certainly keep in mind that the Malaysian workforce is one that is diverse in cultures, religions, and faiths. 

In general, remember to be respectful of everyone’s freedom of choice and expression, and it’s probably best that you don’t try to convert any of your colleagues into your faith or religion. 

2. Gossip

Is it ever? Gossip is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “conversation or reports about other people's private lives that might be unkind, disapproving, or not true.” This, in itself, is a self-explanatory definition on why gossiping between colleagues in the workplace can be dangerous, and is something that you should avoid. 

The dangers of gossip become more apparent when it comes from a place of authority — such as management and leaders in an organisation. Workplace gossip can have significantly negative consequences in the workplace, including: 

  • Lack of unity among colleagues
  • Drop in employee productivity
  • Erosion of trust between colleagues
  • Toxic employee behaviour 

It can, however, be difficult to fully eradicate gossip from the workplace. On the one hand, you can choose to include a no-gossip policy in your company’s employee handbook or policies, but this can be difficult to enforce due to the subjective nature of gossiping. A better solution would be to build a healthy workplace culture & environment — which can only be achieved through long-term employee wellbeing programmes and similar initiatives. 

In fact, it’s worth keeping considerations like culture fit in mind when hiring new talents for the team. This doesn’t mean that you should let personal feelings affect your hiring decision, simply that you should take into account potential chemistry and team dynamics when interviewing/recruiting talents.  

The aim is to emphasise a collaborative and transparent work culture — rather than an in group versus out group. 

3. Politics (no, not office politics)

Ah, politics. Malaysians simply love to discuss politics — after all, who doesn’t have an opinion on the multi-faceted, dynamic world of Malaysian politics? 

Jokes aside, the divisive nature of politics (around the world, not just in Malaysia) means that this is generally a topic that you should steer clear off in a work environment. You may have incredibly strong sentiments about certain political parties or figures, but you’d be best advised not to engage your colleagues in heated discussions of political nature. 

Similar to point number one above, this doesn’t mean that your political affinities need to be hidden. Instead, be aware that there are two sides to every story, and that your colleagues are people that you’ll probably be working with (and seeing) on a daily basis for the foreseeable future. As such, be respectful of any differing opinions, and avoid any controversial debates here. 

4. Salary and Remuneration

Most companies have policies in place that dictate that salaries, remuneration, and the overall benefits package of individual employees should be kept confidential. And even if there aren’t these rules in place, remuneration should not be openly discussed in the workplace — unless, of course, it is a specific salary discussion with your manager or HR department 

So, what’s the reason for this? Information on salary, benefits, and any other remuneration to employees should be kept private to avoid any potential conflicts between employees and employers. This is particularly relevant for larger corporations, where there might be hundreds, or even thousands of employees on various job bands and pay grades — it’s simply best to avoid discussing this between employees. 

Of course, there are occasions where you have to disclose your salary (besides the aforementioned discussion with your manager/HR). For example, you might need to disclose this to potential future employers when looking for a new job, or when you’re applying for a loan at a bank or financial institution. 

But remember: remuneration should generally be confidential in nature. 

5. Gender Identity & Sexual Orientation

We’ve already covered choices of a personal nature such as religion and politics above, but in general, you should also avoid discussing personal life aspects such as gender identity and sexual orientation when chatting with your colleagues. This is because these topics can be contentious in nature, and they generally do not have a place in a professional environment. 

In fact, this cautious approach should extend to other discussions on personal affairs. Family issues, spousal problems, and even personal health issues are generally conversations that you should handle with care — one should always be respectful or mindful, and avoid derogatory language in the workplace.

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altHR — making life easy for HR professionals and employees

As employers and HR professionals, it can be difficult to ensure that the conversations above are handled with due sensitivity and care. However, that’s where Digi’s super app, altHR, comes in, with a digital-first approach that will stand your company in good stead for 2022, and beyond. 

With the Documents module on altHR, important company documents — such as employee handbooks, policies, and even a guide to office rules & regulations — can be easily accessed by new employees. 

This ultimately makes things easier for both employers and employees within a company. Plus, the Documents module even allows HR (or other admins) to publish and share documents with limited visibility to other employees within an organisation. This goes beyond employee handbooks, with top-notch security meaning that you can even share confidential documents such as employee contracts within altHR. 

Help is available, if you know where to look. Let us streamline your HR processes by managing and automating day-to-day tasks, so you won’t have to worry about things like paperwork, privacy concerns, time-tracking, or onboarding challenges.

Sign up for altHR, the all-in-one digital solution that covers everything from onboarding to staff management and providing employees with information kits. You’ve done it the old way long enough.

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