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Family friendly policies in Malaysia: where are we?

INTRODUCTION

The phrase "family friendly policy" (FFP) has increasingly become a popular issue of discussion and of particular interest especially among female employees. Flexible work arrangements such as flexi time, job sharing, work sharing, home working, term time, variable working hours, annualized hours, compressed working week, part time work, teleworking and voluntary reduced hours have been widely practiced in developed countries for several decades.

In the early 1970s, Malaysia's industrialization policy shifted from an import-oriented industrialization (IOI) to an export-oriented industrialization (EOI) which saw an increase in foreign owned multinational labour intensive electrical and electronics industries. This structural change led to an increase in women's participation in the labour force. Official statistics show that women's participation increased from a mere 30% in 1970 to 47.3% by 2008.

However, a recent UNESCAP report showed that Malaysian women were still underrepresented in the job market. In another UNDP study (2007), some immediate measures which were recommended to increase women into paid labour in Malaysia were better family friendly policies, such as reforms to maternity benefits and child care arrangements as well as flexible time and working arrangements. Noticing the importance for workplace reform, the Malaysian Women's Summit in 2007 and 2008 highlighted the urgent need for more family friendly policies at the work place such as flexible working arrangements and child care facilities. The Malaysian government in its endeavour to encourage more women to participate in paid work, has started staggered starting times in the government departments. In the private sector, FFPs have been implemented but it is more evident in foreign owned multinational corporations, educational institutions and a few small firms.

While many studies have shown that this non-conventional mode of employment can benefit employers and employees (See for example Mccann, 2004; Hill, Martinson et. al. 2004, Warne & Holland, 1999), this mode of employment is still very new and not very common in Malaysia. According to Cox (1997) the participation of women in mainstream economics is evidenced by the demand for domestic help to do household task. Nevertheless, the pattern of women and male participation can vary according to cultural differences across the globe (Jones 1998).

This study which is based on a primary survey, first tries to assess how family friendly are some of the work places in Malaysia. The more common modes of family friendly policies are identified based on focus group discussion. Family friendly policies can be in the form of workplace flexibility or work time flexibility. This study however, concentrates more on family friendly policies in terms of work time flexibility as this many employees are interested in this form of FFP. It further sets out to investigate how interested are the employees with regards to some of the modes of family friendly policies offered by the employers. Finally, the paper concludes with discussions on possible challenges faced by the employer and implications and benefits the employees get from a more family friendly workplace.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Studies have shown that an organization which values its employees and recognizes the importance of work life balance stands to win in terms of staff morale and commitment (Nadeem & Hendry, 2003; Liddicott, 2003). FFPs such as flexi time if used with quality practices at the work place can actually become the core of human resource management and lead to good work performance and higher productivity (de Menezes, L.M. & Wood, S. (2006); Irene Hau S.C & Irene Chew K.H. (2006)). As argued by Liechty & Anderson (2007), FFPs are beneficial for both employers and employees and now highly valued by parents who have their own children working under some working arrangements.

There are several approaches and models to define "labour flexibility", depending on the different work, social and personal variables/parameters/perspectives one may take into account. Goudswaard and De Nanteuil (2000) emphasise that "flexibility emerges as a heterogeneous concept, mixing two series of variables, quantitative/qualitative and external/internal, with consequent several possible combinations", which include "numerical flexibility" (e.g. permanent/temporal contracts, work on demand), "geographical flexibility" (e.g. subcontracting, outsourcing), "functional flexibility" (e.g. job enrichment, team work, project groups), and "temporal flexibility" (e.g. night and shift work, part-time, overtime, compressed work week).

Hakansson, Dahlin-Ivanoff, and Sonn (2006) in their focus group study of 19 women, who had experienced stress-related disorder, showed that meaningful occupation is desirous for people to achieve balance in everyday life. Matuska and Erickson (2008) note that women realize the importance to avoid stress due to its link to health and place a great emphasis on achieving a balance between work and rest, leisure activities and time for self as means for a balanced lifestyle. Matuska and Christiansen (2006) reviewed four approaches to understand lifestyle balance--time use, life roles, need satisfaction and biological rhythms and their influences on behavior. Matuska and Christiansen (2008) assert that sustained patterns of occupation that meet biological and psychological needs within the individual's environments can lead to reduced stress, improved health and well-being, and greater life satisfaction.

The search for ways and methods suitable for increasing the flexibility of the working systems and, in particular, of working times can include several different interventions both in short and long-term periods according to the temporal scales that one may consider. In practical they can deal with: (a) increasing working hours with higher salary (e.g. daily or weekly overtime, delayed retirement); (b) re-arrangement of the same amount of working hours (e.g. variable start and finishing times, compressed work week, annual bank of hours); (c) reduction of working hours at the same level of salary (e.g. bank of paid leaves, week-end work, early retirement); (d) reduction of working hours with reduced salary (e.g. horizontal and vertical part-time, job sharing); and (e) reduction of working hours with transfer of costs to the community (solidarity contracts, pre-term retirement).

The type of intervention depends on the prevailing factors that are present at different times which influence political choices in work and social organization. In the short-term, for example, one may expect that work hours may be altered for limited periods in terms of increased or decreased hours worked per day or week and/or changed position of work hours in order to cope with increasing temporal (seasonal, peak hours, just-in-time production) demands for goods and services, as well as to reduce production costs. In the long-term, the interventions are linked to more complex planning or adjustment of professional career, and to adaptations of working life to living and social conditions, also in the perspective of the progressive ageing of the general and working population.

Over the last decade an increasing interest in "temporal flexibility" can be observed, that leads, on one hand, to a demand for an increase in the number of hours during which the production is possible (company-oriented flexibility) and on the other hand, to a desire for a reduction of individual working hours and/or an increase in the autonomy of their regulation (Individual-oriented flexibility). Also, the society is interested in flexible working hours as many advantages can be derived from a more flexible arrangement of social activities and services.

While countries such as United Kingdom, Europe, United States, Australia and New Zealand have been incorporating workplace flexibility for a very long time, this working arrangement is new in the Malaysian work environment. Malaysian women are historically subject to a patriarchal society holding the ideology of "good mother and good wife". This ideology is further reinforced with colonialism which established economic structures which led to a gendered division of labour across all cultures. In a study by Kaur, (2004) which aimed to research the comparative understanding of the changing role of women's economic activities in 7 countries in Asia, it was noted that socio-cultural and religious background played a vital part for Asian women including Malaysian women who participated in the labour market.

Even though FFPs such as flexi time is a more common phenomenon in the western countries compared to Asian countries, some countries such as Hong Kong practice it to relieve traffic congestion. While 58 percent of the country's working women are married and hold dual roles, majority of the women continue to be involved in a very large proportion of unpaid household chores and caring work. FFPs results in a better working spirit and work performance among employees. The government agencies and a few multinational corporations and educational institutions in Malaysia have already implemented some form of FFPs and also various forms of flexi working.

As the workforce changes, organizations need to change their workplace policies to have a more holistic view of their employees and also to cater for the demands of the work and non-work responsibilities of their human resource. Evidence suggests that FFPs at the workplaces are beneficial and important for employees. (Liddicoat, L. 2003)

METHODOLOGY

This study is based on a preliminary study to a nationwide survey on family friendly policies at the workplaces in Malaysia. The respondents were identified using the convenient sampling method, giving attention to quota sampling. This was in order to obtain a representative sample of employees in terms of gender, ethnicity, age and income group.

A self administered survey questionnaire was given initially to 50 identified respondents through the e-mail and also face-to-face. Using the snow ball technique, these respondents distributed the questionnaires to their acquaintances and finally 175 questionnaires were collected within a time frame of four weeks. The target group was employees working in the Klang Valley, which is the central business region of Malaysia and is where the capital city, Kuala Lumpur is located.

A questionnaire was adapted from Sullivan, Sherry E. and Lisa A. (2007) to assess the perceived feelings about family friendly workplace. The questionnaire consisted of 3 parts: Part A consisted of 7 items on the demographic profile of the respondents. Part B consisted of 7 items to assess how truly Family-Friendly is the workplace and the respondents were expected to answer the availability of the policy by ticking "Yes" or "No". Part C had further 10 items on employees' satisfaction level of specific family friendly policies in terms of leave entitlements and child care facilities. Part D consisted of 8 items on the modes of family friendly policies to gauge which mode were the employees more interested in. Part E looked at the implications of flexi working among the employees. The objective was to measure the perception of the respondents towards the flexi working hours and the question basically asked "that if they were given a choice to work flexi hours, what might the implications be?" The items were based on literature and was adapted to the Malaysian case. Respondents were given 11 items and answered "yes" or "no".

Descriptive statistics and inferences from the study were used to provide adequate scope for drawing logical conclusions on the availability of family friendly policies at the workplace. Through cross tabulations, it was possible to capture some of the inferences on employees' perception towards flexi working arrangements in the Klang Valley.

FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION

Table 1 summarizes the demographic profile of the respondents. Majority of the respondents (69%) were females. Even though the main objective of the study is to assess perception towards FFPs which is generally linked to female employees, males were also given the questionnaire so as to find out their perception about FFPs and to see whether there were any significant differences in their perception towards FFPs. The respondents were quite fairly distributed in terms of age group. Majority of the respondents (31%) were in the age group of 30--39 years. This is the age group which shows a general downward trend in the female labour force participation rates in Malaysia. Another good 26 percent were young employees below 30 years old. In terms of ethnicity, 54 percent of the respondents were Malays, (who are the indigenous people of Malaysia) 31 percent Indians and 11 percent Chinese. A major proportion of the employees were from the private sector which has more rigid working arrangements and stressful working conditions. While the balance 30 percent were academicians from various public and private universities. Majority (65%) of the employees were from large organizations i.e. organizations with more than fifty employees and earning above RM 4000 per month. More than one third of the employees were from the middle level management and the balance one third were university academics. Only a small proportion of 20% were from the top management.

Based on an evaluation scale built by Sullivan, Sherry E. and Lisa A. Mainiero (2007), questions were asked to the employees to determine how family friendly is their workplace. Table 2 which shows employees' perspective of FFP illustrates that majority (more than 56%) of the respondents are working in companies "that are building strengths towards family-friendly environment". It was found that generally the respondents were satisfied with the leave entitlements but most of the companies did not have the desired working arrangements which the employees would have preferred.

Another large proportion of them (27%) are working in companies which need to improve in terms of family friendly benefits. Only a small percentage of 16 percent of the respondents reported working in a truly family friendly company. Further examination of these respondents showed that they were academicians from the universities which have relatively flexi time and some also have child care centers within the university premises.

The respondents were asked to state their preference for different types of FFPs in terms of working arrangements. Based on focus group discussions with women groups and female employees, some of the more common modes of family friendly policies in terms of working arrangements were identified and posed to the respondents. Their responses were recorded and ranked as shown in Table 3.

Some of the more common modes of FFPs which were requested and are in demand by the working females in Malaysia range from flexible leave to various flexible working arrangements such as flexi time career break, teleworking, job sharing and part-time employment.

Flexible leave was available more to employees in the private sector but career break and job sharing was more common among higher executive levels of occupation and not often heard among medium level or lower level positions. In terms of working policies, the table reveals that flexible leave was more popular compared to flexi time. The most common mode of working arrangement among the respondents was flexible leave where 40 percent of the employees were given this choice at their workplace. Career break, whether less than 5 years or more than 5 years is rarely practiced in Malaysia, except among academics who take no pay leave for their studies.

As for part-time employment, it seems to be the second least common mode which is practiced in Malaysia with less than 35 percent of the employees having this policy at their workplace. In Malaysia, part time employment is considered more as "casual labour" and is common among academics or students who need extra income. It is generally a working arrangement when employees need extra income and is not provided by companies to their permanent employees. The least favoured form was compressed work weeks, possibly as this carried the implication that this involved a heavier work load and a stress filled job.

Even though FFPs and flexi working arrangements has implications on all employees, the study finds that female employees are more interested in flexi working hours than their male counterparts. The male employees in this study were more interested in skill development programmes, socializing, clubs and corporate wellness programmes.

The respondents were also asked what the types of family friendly benefits available in their company and if they were satisfied about it. Their responses are as shown in Table 4.

The table below shows that majority of the respondents are most satisfied about their annual leave scheme, emergency leave and unpaid leave arrangements, but not about provision for elderly care centre, nursing area and child care facilities. Child care facilities is gaining a lot of recognition from the government with the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development's allocation of child care incentives and creches at work place, but this seems to be very slow in implementation in the private sector. Elderly care, in terms of facilities or work time flexibility is also highly neglected as the Malaysian population was always considered a "young population". However, the number of elderly people are rising in Malaysia and it is difficult and expensive to hire a nanny, hence this is another area which clearly needs immediate improvement.

As shown in Table 5 below, some of the implications which were identified from previous literature were posed in the questionnaire. Majority of the respondents felt that flexi work generally will improve their social networking as they have more time to socialise and visit friends and relatives. More than 98 percent of the respondents felt that flexi work generally will improve their quality of life as well as work life balance. FFPs such as flexi time and part-time gives more time to improve their quality of life as they are able to balance work and home and are happy to work in such a workplace. They also commented that it helps them to be more committed and concentrate on work as home is manageable. Some of the respondents also commented that productivity will be improved as you work in a more conducive environment. Even though lifelong studying has become a norm for many employees, it was not very crucial among the respondents and this could be due to the age category of the respondents.

The respondents noted that with the implementation of FFPs, employers would likely be challenged with problems of absenteeism followed by more complicated employer issues and not keeping up with date lines. This is more so with FFPs such as flexible working arrangements. But the respondents noted that the rate of truancy and lower productivity were the least of the challenges the employers might face. This implies that flexible working hours does not lower one's work performance and productivity. In fact, this method is desired by some employers as it allows for staff to be more relaxed and yet produce output effectively.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

As more families end up as dual career families in Malaysia, especially when women are increasingly spending more time in paid labour and at the same time having to look into child care and elderly care needs, FFPs and flexi work is very pertinent in the economy. Families that have two streams of income are now considered the norm, and as parents and children construct their socializing together, they want to spend more time together. Despite work life reflecting a more widely shared and inclusive set of issues, childcare and elderly care nonetheless tend to be the responsibility of the women. In a gendered division of labour society, it is always the responsibility for a career woman to sacrifice her career to take care of the home. FFPs such as flexi time and part time may provide married women with young children who require the greatest parental time, to balance work and home.

It was found that the decline in the participation of women in the labour force in the United States was concentrated among highly educated married women with young children (Hotchkiss 2006). This was also the main reason why Malaysian women left the labour force. "Spending time with family was one of the main reasons cited by women who stopped working" (Kaur, 2004). The nuclear family with a full-time mother managing the home has been transformed and this requires more creches or child care facilities which are affordable and reliable.

With no extended family to rely upon, and trying to juggle both the reproductive and non-reproductive roles, many working women resolved to the compelling demand to have somebody to take over the non-economic roles and this created a high demand for foreign domestic workers over the last two decades in the country. It cannot be denied that FFPs and flexi time may be a contributory factor in determining whether more women may be able to participate in the labour market.

FFPs are beginning to get importance in the corporate sector in the country but flexi working hours are still hard to come by in most Malaysian firms. Government policies and good corporate social responsibility practices include achieving an ideal work life balance. At policy level, the Malaysian Government is officially committed to gender equality as articulated in the National Government 5 year plans especially the present one. (Ninth Malaysia Plan) In order to maintain Malaysia's competitive edge in the global economy, there is an urgent need to reduce its dependence on foreign labour and a "brain drain" culture. Policies which promote re-entry of women who have taken time off for child care and more flexibility at the work place need to be implemented by both public and private sectors in a more serious and systematic manner.

The study shows that there are many work places in Malaysia which have implemented FFPs such as various types of leave entitlements but in terms of working hours flexibility, there is still a lack of awareness and urgency among employers. Based on this study, there still exists a gap between employee's practical needs and the availability of family friendly policies.

While this study looked at FFPs at the workplaces, it only concentrated in the Klang Valley region which is the central business region in Malaysia. A wider survey should be done to cover the whole country. This study had employees from the public sector, private sector and also academics from the universities. Another study which concentrates only on the private sector should be conducted so as to get a clearer picture of the FFPs in the corporate sector.

Flexibility in the work place and more FFPs will not only benefit the organizations to access the global economy but also enable better work life balance and lead to a greater labour force participation among women in Malaysia.

REFERENCES

Benchmarking Ideas for Fostering Family-Friendly Workplaces. Organizational Dynamics. (36)1,45-62.

Christiansen, Charles H and Matuska, Kathleen M. (2006). Lifestyle Balance: A Review of Concept and Research. Journal of Occupational Science. 13(1), 49-61.

Chow, Irene Hau-siu & Chew, Irene Keng-Howe, (2006). The Effect of Alternative Work Schedules on Employee Performance. Intenational Journal of Employment Studies, 14(1), 105-130.

Chu, Sydney C.K. 2007. Generating, scheduling and rostering of shift crew-duties: Applications at the Hong Kong International Airport. European Journal of Operational Research. 16 March. 177(3), 1764-1778. Retrieved on 11th June 2007 from http://www.sciencedirect.com.

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Cox, Rosie. (1997). Invisible Labour: Perceptions of Paid Domestic Work in London. Journal of Occupational Science. August. 4(2), 62-68. Retrieved on 5 Feb 2009.

de Menezes L.M., Wood, S. (2006), 'The reality of flexible work systems in Britain', International Journal of Human Resource Management, 17(1), 106-138;

Dresen, M.H.W. Frings, Sluiter, J.K. and Meijer, E.M. (2001). Review on the Effects of Working Time and Recovery Aspects on Work Ability of (Older) Workers. Coronel Institute for Occupational and Environmental Health, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam December. Retrieved on 11 June 2007 from http://www.sciencedirect.com.

Goudswaard, A. & de Nanteuil, M. (2000). Flexibility and Working Conditions: A Qualitative and Comparative Study in EU Countries. European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions: Dublin. http://www.sciencedirect.com. Accessed 11/06/07

Hakansson, Carita, Dahlin-Ivanoff, Synneve and Sonn, Ulla. (2006). Achieveing Balance in Everyday Life. Journal of Occupational Science. April. 13(1), 74-82.

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Kaur, Amarjit (2004) "Costed Not Valued: Women Workers In Industrialising Asia" New York. Palgrave Macmillan.

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Matuska, Kathleen M and Christiansen, Charles H. (2008). A Proposed Model Of Lifestyle Balance. Journal of Occupational Science. April. 15(1), 9-19.

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Geetha Subramaniam, Victoria University of Wellington

Doris Padmini Selvaratnam, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

The first author is a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Business Management, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Malaysia and pursuing her doctorate at the Department of Development Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Email: geethamaniam@gmail.com

The second author holds a doctorate in Sociology and is a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Economics and Business, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. Email: pegasus@ukm.my
Table 1: Demographic Profile

Variables Percent

Gender

Female 69
Male 31

Age

20-29 years 26
30-39 years 31
40-49 years 26
50-59 years 17

Race

Malays 66
Chinese 11
Indian 21
Others 2

Occupation

Business Owners 2
Private Sector 43
Government Sector 25
University 30

Income (RM) *

Below RM 500 2
RM501-RM1000 7
RM1001-RM2000 23
RM2001-RM3000 20
RM3001-RM4000 15
More than RM 4000 33

Size of Workplace

Small Organisation (0-10 Staff) 6
Medium Organisation (11-50 Staff) 29
Large Organisation (More Than 50 Staff) 65

Management Level

Lower Level Management 6
Medium Level Management 37
Top Level Management 20
Academics 37

* The conversion rate at time of publication is approximately
USD 1 = RM 3.62

Table 2: The Number Of Family-Friendly Companies

Description No of companies Percentage
 based on
 respondents
 feedback

>10 yes, truly family friendly 28 16
company

5-10 yes, company is building 99 57
strengths towards family-friendly

<5 yes, company needs to improve 48 27
its score by utilising true
family-friendly benefits.

Total 175 100

Table 3: Modes of Family Friendly Policies

Modes of Family Friendly Policies Ranking

Flexible leave 1
More flexible working hours 2
Career break 3
Teleworking 4
Job sharing 5
Work from home 6
Part-time/term time working 7
Compressed work weeks 8

Table 4: Benefits Available in the Companies

Description of Benefits Mean Ranking

Annual Leave 1.1429 1
Emergency Leave 1.1686 2
Unpaid Leave 1.491 3
Maternity Leave 1.4037 4
Paternity Leave 1.485 5
Family Day Activities 1.4458 6
Day Care Centre 1.9221 7
Child Care Facility 1.9091 8
Nursing Area 1.9408 9
Elderly Care Centre 1.8092 10

Table 5: Impact Of FFPs on Work Life Balance

Some implications of FFP Mean Ranking

 a) it might enhance my social networking 1.2398 1
 b) it might improve my quality of life 1.2832 2
 c) it might help me to improve my 1.5607 3
 productivity at work
 d) it might help me to have a better work 1.5872 4
 life balance
 e) it might help me to further my studies 1.6588 5
 f) it might encourage me to have more children 1.7574 6

Table 6: Challenges faced by the Employer

Potential problems due to flexible working hours Mean Ranking

a) Absenteeism 1.6802 1
b) More complicated employer issues 1.7919 2
c) Not keeping up with date lines 1.8058 3
d) Not turn up for work but report as attended 1.8538 4
e) Lower productivity 2.0407 5
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Author:Subramaniam, Geetha; Selvaratnam, Doris Padmini
Publication:Journal of International Business Research
Geographic Code:9MALA
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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