Malaysia still caught in the Jurassic era of work

Whenever there is any suggestion that could improve the lives of those of us who have to work for a living, you can be certain that the grumpy old men of the employers’ community will scream blue murder.

According to them, the introduction of the Employment Insurance Scheme’s measly 0.4% tariff would wipe out thousands of jobs. Of course it didn’t.

Increasing maternity leave and raising paternity leave from three to seven days will close thousands of small companies. Of course it won’t.

Most recently, in full defiance of a Nobel Prize winner who demonstrated the exact opposite, Malaysian employers groups said that increasing the minimum wage to a level that is still below the poverty-line would destroy jobs and businesses alike. No such thing.

So when we hear a proposal simply to discuss, not even to implement, the possibility of a four-day-week we know that reactionary employer groups will always oppose it from the start. However, just three simple observations suggest they should not.

First, the evidence that a four-day-week increases productivity is increasing from every pilot and every study. In August 2019 for example, a four-day-week at Microsoft in Japan raised productivity by 40%. Many large and small companies are experiencing the same results.

The old management adage “Parkinson’s Law” states that work expands to fill the time allocated to do it.

Reducing time targets and focussing on deliverables raises productivity because people get the job done to enjoy their free time.

It is even better if they are given flexibility on where and when they do the work. This is a clear business win.

Second, businesses benefit because a four-day-week can help them manage demands for pay rises.

If an employee complains that she needs a pay raise because her petrol, home loan and food costs have all gone up, her boss will likely reply that his petrol costs have gone up more because he has a bigger car, his loan repayments have gone up more because he has a bigger house and his food costs have gone up more because he has a bigger belly. She will not get her pay raise.

On the other hand, if she asks for one day off per week, provided she has completed her work in the other four days, then he gets the same value from employing her and she can make up her income with a useful side hustle in the extra day.

She will continue to work for him as the main income source but will complete her work more quickly and will not demand higher wages because she has other options. Everyone wins in this scenario.

Third, with the government pushing digitalisation, new technologies and the future of work in the fourth industrial revolution, a four-day-week can encourage new business models and promote technology adoption that improves productivity, value-added and business profits.

This is good for everyone and shifts the entire economy to a new technology and productivity-driven development path.

Clinging to low-paid, long hours and inflexible working conditions is holding Malaysia back. Out-of-date employment practices and inflexible management mindsets are at the root of this problem.

Businesses, government and employees must get together to focus more on the positive aspects of a four-day-week. Flexible working and other ways of freeing up the employment scenario will move Malaysia out of the Neolithic period and into the 21st century when it comes to how we live and work.

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