Flexible work arrangements, shorter workweek, hybrid work

Overall, even with the majority of Southeast Asian employees preferring flexibility, 86% of respondents are still open to supporting their employer on a four-day workweek.

There has been an increase in different work arrangements over the past few years, with each model accommodating different workers' needs. In Southeast Asia, new Qualtrics research revealed that 60% of full-time employees in the region would prefer the flexibility to work whenever they want, over a shorter workweek (37%). Workers in Malaysia also indicated the same preference, though slightly greater, with 62% opting for flexibility over a shorter workweek (48%).

Reflective of the above trend, the study found that flexibility is a bigger driver of retention (66%) compared to a four-day work week (50%) in the Southeast Asian region. 

Looking further, 33% of employees in Southeast Asia defined flexibility as having control of the hours they want to work. Others define flexibility as having the ability to work from any location (24%), choosing the days they work (19%), or being measured by performance instead of hours (18%). Respondents from Malaysia echoed the same preferences.

However, even with the majority of employees having a preference for flexibility, 86% of respondents in the region are still open to supporting their employer on a four-day workweek — predominantly citing improvements to their health and wellbeing as the reasons for doing so.

In particular, the majority of respondents — including those from Malaysia — believe a four-day work week could improve work-life balance (86%) and mental wellbeing (82%), productivity (83%), and make them feel more loyal to their employer. So much so, that 60% of respondents in Southeast Asia were willing to take a pay cut to work one less day a week — but Malaysian employees were not as willing, with only 54% agreeing. 

The move to a shorter workweek would no doubt come with some trade-offs, as many respondents believe. Almost three-quarters (72%) in Southeast Asia say they expect to work longer hours, while 58% say customers would be frustrated, and that company performance would suffer. Similarly, in Malaysia, respondents cited longer hours (68%), frustrated customers (62%), and company performance (65%) as their top concerns.

Adapting to new working models

The study managed to identify two key drivers of success for the new ways of working: prioritising health and wellbeing, and ensuring employees are enabled to succeed in both physical and remote environments.

This is in response to 72% of workers revealing their job to be the main source of mental health challenges. While a similar volume of respondents from Southeast Asia say working remotely has had a positive (25%) and negative (25%) impact on their mental health, more respondents in Malaysia actually noted a positive impact (30%) compared to a negative one (22%).

At the same time, two-thirds (67%) of respondents in the region feel their career advancement will be negatively impacted if they work flexible hours. The combination of these findings highlight the importance of understanding individual needs within the workforce, to enable employers to take targeted action that ensures no one gets left behind.

One potential solution identified, as supported by 89% of respondents, is having employee performance measured by results rather than hours and days worked. In particular, respondents across Southeast Asia tout increased efficiency, focus, and recognition as the top reasons for doing so, while 26% expect to work fewer hours.

An overwhelming majority of respondents also welcome their employer offering paid mental health days, with 94% saying they would be a good long-term solution to ensuring good mental health.

Singapore findings 

Moving over to Singapore, the same trend can be seen, with almost two-thirds of full-time employees in the country (64%) preferring the flexibility to work whenever they want over one-fewer days at work (36%).

A third of employees say flexibility is having control of the hours they want to work, while others define it as having the ability to work from any location (26%) or choosing the days they work (19%). 

A similar degree of respondents (87%) are open to supporting their employer on a four-day workweek, even despite preferring flexibility; the majority of respondents also believe a four-day work week could:

  • improve work-life balance (89%) and mental health (86%)
  • make them feel more loyal to their employer (87%)
  • increase productivity (86%)

In terms of potential trade-offs, 78% say they expect to work longer hours, while 62% say their customers would be frustrated, and 55% say company performance would suffer. 

Similar to the above, 70% of respondents reveal their job is the main source of mental health challenges, with respondents saying working remotely has had a positive (24%) and negative (22%) impact on their mental health. Respondents also felt working flexible hours would influence their growth and development, with 70% believing it would negatively impact their career advancement.

ALSO READ: What can Hong Kong employers do to better support employee mental health?


Images / Shutterstock

Follow us on Telegram and on Instagram @humanresourcesonline for all the latest HR and manpower news from around the region!