Can a Four-Day Work Week Work in Malaysia?

July 16, 2021
Nicholas K

According to a recent report by the BBC, trials for a four-day work week in Iceland were an “overwhelming success”, with many workers in the nordic nation moving to shorter hours as a result. The Icelandic trial, which involved over 2,500 workers across multiple industries, mirrored similar pilot programmes being run around the globe, such as those run by Unilever in New Zealand, or even a six-hour work day experiment in Sweden a couple of years ago.

However, a four-day work week — or shorter regular work hours — is a concept that is practically unheard of in Malaysia. There are a variety of reasons for this, of course, including a more traditional approach from employers, or simply the sheer amount of work that needs to be done. Then again, remote working arrangements were largely uncharted territory for many Malaysian companies prior to the COVID-19 pandemic — but thanks to digitalisation software options like altHR, it has become part of businesses’ routines in the “new normal”. 

So — can a four-day work week work in Malaysia? To get a better idea, we spoke to Goh Ai Ching, Co-Founder and CEO of Piktochart, on the latest episode of altHR’s webinar series (in partnership with MDEC’s 100 Go Digital and as part of Digi’s #BCDigitalisation​ initiative):

Here are some key takeaways from the session, as well as Piktochart’s four-day work week experiment. 

A four-day work week combats employee burnout

Ching explains that the team at Piktochart is made up of employees from all over the globe, as part of the company’s hybrid work model. This also means that the company is run fully remotely — an arrangement that was first mooted back in 2019, and implemented during the first iteration of the lockdown here in Malaysia.

However, the leadership team at Piktochart began to notice that employees were showing signs of being overworked. One of the possible side effects of remote working (or work-from-home) setups is the blurring of lines between personal and work lives for employees — something that many of us are familiar with. To help with this, Piktochart began to explore ways to help improve work-life balance for their employees. 

This eventually led to the four-day work week experiment during Q4 of 2020 — a way of work that is still in effect at Piktochart to this day. 

Pros & cons: Is employee productivity maintained?

“Now your life is planned around a three-day weekend, which is beautiful and wonderful for those of us who have families.” - Goh Ai Ching, Co-Founder and CEO of Piktochart

The first obstacle to clear might come in the form of senior management at your company. You should expect some form of resistance, at least during initial stages, and there are certainly valid concerns over employee performance and productivity. You should, in any case, expect some growing pains over the first two quarters — although you’ll also begin to see the positives with regards to employee well-being and morale. 

Something else to consider is the competitive edge that a four-day work week arrangement offers your company when it comes to talent acquisition. For startups and smaller companies, a four-day work week (at the same pay level as a five-day week) is a hugely attractive package to prospective employees, allowing you to attract the best talents to your company from around the world. 

Productivity, meanwhile, can be a difficult element to measure. Ching explains that productivity used to be measured by the quantity of workers’ output; in the current digital age, productivity should be equivalent to the quality of output, instead. 

“Even if we’re working a lot, to be honest, a lot of our time is consumed in meetings, in all of the things that are not deep work.”

Ching’s advice: Protect your people’s deep work time, eliminate unnecessary meetings, and use this surplus time to offer employees rest. 

Can the four-day work week work for everyone?

If you’re an employer, you’re probably doing a quick cost-benefit analysis in your head right now. If you’re an employee, you’re probably thinking of presenting the four-day work week to your company’s upper management the next chance you get. 

But the reality is that a four-day work week might not work for everyone. A crucial element of the process is trust, with employees required to work autonomously in order to be efficient with their (and the company’s) time. If you’re considering a four-day work week for your company, you need to ask yourself: Why? 

The four-day week is not a silver bullet, a universal-fit solution for all of your employee-related issues. Consider any problems that you’re trying to solve first, and have an honest discussion with your employees, as well as the HR department in your company. But with the right tools and mindset, a four-day work week can be hugely beneficial. 

But first, digitalise your business with altHR

The world is going increasingly digital these days, and this trend is set to continue in the years to come. HR professionals are often faced with daunting, often tedious tasks on a daily basis — tasks that have become even more difficult to handle in light of the ongoing COVID-19 situation. 

But 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 payroll and onboarding, to staff management and providing employees with information kits. You’ve done it the old way long enough.

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