News: Are Malaysia bosses missing the point of return-to-office mandates?

Employee Engagement

Are Malaysia bosses missing the point of return-to-office mandates?

Employers in Malaysia may be underestimating the challenges of return-to-office mandates and risking a significant workforce backlash in the process.
Are Malaysia bosses missing the point of return-to-office mandates?

KUALA LUMPUR – Workplace and talent leaders in Malaysia want to introduce return-to-office mandates for their teams, but as recent trends show, they may need to rethink those office return policies.

Is it time to say goodbye to hybrid and remote work? Across the world, 3 in 5 CEOs expect workers to return to full-time office-based employment by 2026. In Malaysia, however, talent leaders appear to be pushing for full-time office work much sooner.

Malaysia’s HRD Corp and the Ministry of Human Resources have long been encouraging businesses to weigh out the potential for RTO. In a joint paper, they presented a quick RTO checklist for companies considering a return to the “old norm”:

  • When is the right time for employees to return?
  • As an employer, what are the key challenges you are having (or anticipate having) regarding RTO?
  • Can the job be efficiently performed remotely?
  • Who should return to the workplace?
  • How can employers protect employees who come to work?

While the questions above were initially prompted by the COVID pandemic, a few questions remain relevant to employees to this day. Which roles are efficiently performed even outside of a shared work environment, and which staff members are eligible?

HRD Corp and the HR ministry believe working from home eliminates the pressures of commute and enables employees to work during their most productive times and in environments where they feel most at ease. However, both agencies insist returning to office work is better overall for employees’ social and physical well-being.

“Extended hours of screen exposure due to full-time computer work can lead to fatigue, headaches, and eye-related symptoms,” officials wrote in a 2022 report. “This could also contribute to mental issues such as social isolation and depression.”

Why Malaysia workers would quit over RTO

However, in Randstad’s 2024 Workmonitor Research into Malaysia, 2 in 5 employees surveyed (39%) said they would rather quit than be forced to work in the office.

Malaysia is thus at a crossroads. Employers have been persistent in their RTO policy campaigns. More than half of Malaysia workers (52%) reported their employers expect them to be in the office more frequently. The percentage of employees facing the pressures of RTO in Malaysia is 17% higher than the global average.

Flexible working key to talent acquisition and retention

Are Malaysia employers missing the point about RTO? The middle ground is still flexible work arrangements, a set-up that even the HRD Corp and HR ministry support.

In fact, Malaysia workers have enjoyed the right to request flexible working arrangements since 2022, predating even Singapore’s new tripartite guidelines on FWA requests.

“Despite local employers establishing stricter office attendance requirements, an equitable understanding of flexibility and diversity recognises that the employee experience extends beyond where and when they work,” said Fahad Naeem, Country Director of Randstad Malaysia.

It’s been a long journey through the remote and hybrid work era. “As a result,” Naeem said, “job seekers are becoming more vocal about their expectations and are even rejecting higher-paying positions that require daily office attendance.”

Both the HRD Corp and HR ministry agree, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to RTO mandates.

“Employers are legally obliged to consider flexible working requests in a ‘reasonable’ manner,” they said. However, they maintained that it is ultimately up to employers how, where and when their employees work.

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Topics: Employee Engagement, #Flexibility

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