By Sharmila Ganapathy
Just last month, global workplace provider Regus published the results of a survey that revealed that 79% of Malaysian employees would choose one job over another, similar one, if it offered flexible work hours. The survey also found that a staggering 76% confirmed that flexible work hours also improves staff retention.
The Regus survey, which canvassed the opinions of more than 20,000 senior executives and business owners across 95 countries, found that in Malaysia, 72% of respondents said flexible working was a perk that attracts top talent.
Yet, despite the obvious preference for flexible working hours by Malaysian employees, not many employers in the country offer this option to their employees. Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan told Business Circle: “When we did a survey last year on flexible working arrangements, only 28% of respondents said they had implemented flexible working hours. They were mostly large companies and multinational corporations.”
According to him, the companies that did offer such working arrangements said their ability to retain valuable employees was much higher due to this.
However, Shamsuddin noted that even among employers who offered flexible working hours, only a select few employees were allowed the option. He added that a degree of trust needed to be established between the employer and employee first before such arrangements were put into place or offered.
Still, with the attrition rate (for employees) hovering around 15 to 20% every year, employers may be wise to consider flexible work arrangements for their staff. After all, when staff leave, it results in costs to a company, as it has to advertise for the position, interview candidates, and train them to fill the vacancies.
“If flexible hours manage to retain and even attract talent, companies should consider this option,” Shamsuddin said.
P. Raj Kumar (pic), who is director of executive placements and practice leader-energy at CnetG Asia, an executive recruitment and talent consulting firm, said flexi hours work, but recommends that it be carried out prudently.
“One or two employees earned the trust of the company so we allowed them to work flexi hours. However, we also offer staggered hours—starting at 7.30 am—to all employees, so they can choose the hours they want to work. However, those who opt for flexi hours should not disregard client calls and emails; this is part of the requirements in allowing them to telecommute,” he told Business Circle. He added that the employees who opt for flexi hours are highly accountable and don’t take advantage of this option.
When asked why the firm only allows select employees to work flexible hours, he frankly admitted that offering flexible hours has a huge impact on results, hence the selectiveness. However, he also said that employees who work flexible hours do deliver.
Another positive for the company has been employee retention. “People given flexi hours have stayed longer because they appreciate the flexibility. Most in fact prefer regular hours. Even employees working staggered hours give assurance that this doesn’t affect their productivity,” he shared.
For Lee Ting Ting (pic), managing director of public relations firm Pi PR Consultancy, the move towards offering flexible working hours for staff was not a deliberate one, but something adopted in the course of the business operations.
“The official working hours stated in the company’s employment contract is still 9am to 6pm, but I started to notice that every staff has a specific working pattern – it could be due to their productivity cycle in the work day, or due to hindrance in travelling logistics i.e. getting to work.
“Since by nature, I am not someone who believes in ‘mothering’ the staff but rather treat them like mature working professionals, I decided to eventually move to adopt the flexi-hour model for Pi. It has probably been going on for over three years now,” she said.
She added that due to having flexible working hours, her staff feel more responsible towards completing their work and meeting their KPIs (key performance indicators). “I suppose this is out of a natural grateful feeling that ‘if the company is flexible towards my working hours, the least I can do is to be a performing staff’.”
Commenting on employee retention rates since implementing flexi hours, Lee said: “So far in Pi’s operations since its establishment in 2009, there hasn’t been a single staff who has resigned ‘voluntarily’. When I say that, it means that those who have left the company have been given the option to part ways for the lack of performance, or unsuitability to the job. The resignation is amicable and not due to the factor of working hours. Rather, it is more the case of the employees wanting to stay on because they know they can enjoy this privilege of flexi working hours at Pi.
Work-life balance leads to happier employees
Shamsuddin’s advice to companies who are mulling offering flexi hours to their employees is to ensure whether this system is suitable and if it poses an advantage to them. “Being able to have work-life balance leads to happier employees. They’ll also be more productive, because they’ll spend less time caught in traffic and more on their tasks,” he said.
By implementing flexi hours, Shamsuddin said employers can save on energy costs and office space rental, but still receive the necessary input from their employees.
Raj Kumar said that companies need to clearly define how flexi hours are going to work and their expectations. “Systems and processes need to be in place, for example IT and security measures. It will work in some companies, but not in some others, usually because of lack of clarity and expectations. Flexi hours may sound good but you need to have the systems and thought processes in place.”
Lee is more gung-ho about flexi hours. Her advice to companies? “Don’t mull – go for it! Especially so if you are in a business that does not render fixed hours necessary (unlike the manufacturing sector, banks, hospitals, etc.) There is technology already widely available that allows remote access instructions, communications and reporting. Smartphones, Wi-Fi-enabled laptops, Cloud-based joint storage and retrieval systems, communication and messaging applications – all of these exist for a reason.”
Lee adds that another advantage of adopting a flexi working hour model for the business is that it helps the employer ‘weed out’ non-performing staff as performance appraisals are solely based on KPIs met. “In fact, the staff needs to show more promptness, responsibility and common sense in balancing their work/life ratio. Giving the option of flexi working hours removes the excuse of travelling time, transportation and social/home life commitment from the staff’s usual repertoire of excuses for non-delivery.
While it is heartening to note more and more Malaysian companies are beginning to offer flexi hours to their employees, most still do not. This has to change – it is time that employers learned to trust their employees more and find ways to accommodate those who require flexi hours or risk losing valuable talent.