Is a storm brewing for the office sub-sector?

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Businessmen send a letter of resignation to the boss

By joseph Wong

ACCORDING to Randstad, the world’s largest talent agency, 39% of Malaysians consider quitting if their employers ask them to spend more time working in the office. Work flexibility, it appears, remains a hot topic among Malaysian talents after having experienced the advantages and work-life balance, following the pandemic four years ago.

The survey by Randstad also noted that despite the high percentage of younger generations preferring flexible work, there is an observed increase in employers expecting employees to be physically present in the office compared to six months ago.

This shift in employer expectations contrasts with the desires of many employees, as evidenced by the survey results indicating that most Malaysians prefer working from the office at least three days a week. However, despite the preference for flexibility, the reality is that many employers have re-introduced mandatory five-day office work policies. This discrepancy between employee preference and employer policy may lead to several outcomes.

Retention challenges: Employers with rigid office attendance policies may face challenges in retaining talent, especially among younger generations who prioritise flexibility. The willingness of employees to resign if required to work more frequently in the office suggests that companies enforcing inflexible policies may experience higher turnover rates. 

Impact on recruitment: The survey findings indicate that a significant portion of respondents would not accept a job with a company that is not proactive in improving diversity and equity. This suggests that employers with rigid office policies may face difficulties in attracting new talent, particularly among younger generations who value diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

Employee dissatisfaction: The data underscores the importance of equitable work policies, including flexible work arrangements, diverse leadership, gender pay equity and non-discrimination policies. Employers that do not prioritise such policies may result in employee dissatisfaction and retention issues but also hamper their attractiveness to potential and new recruits.

Increased resignations: It is typical of many Malaysian employers to put extra pressure on existing staff rather than hiring new ones to replace those who left. This added workload may lead to the domino effect causing en-mass resignations. 

While the majority of respondents prefer some level of office presence, the introduction of mandatory five-day office work policies may lead to resignations which could result in a decrease in office occupancy as employees seek alternative work arrangements, such as remote work or job opportunities with more flexible policies. 

Overall, the impact on office occupancy will likely depend on how employers respond to the preferences and priorities of their workforce. Companies that embrace flexible work arrangements and prioritise equity and inclusion initiatives may experience higher levels of employee satisfaction, retention and recruitment, potentially mitigating any significant decrease in office occupancy and a drop in productivity.

According to the survey, this trend is particularly strong among younger generations, with nearly half of Gen Z (49%) and Millennials (47%) opposed to inflexible work arrangements. Compared to six months ago, 52% of Malaysians said that their employers expect them to be in the office more, 17% higher than the global average.

Randstad Malaysia country director Fahad Naeem said: “Flexibility in the workplace should encompass all aspects, including diverse work arrangements that promote equity. 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.

“During the pandemic, many people discovered they could work just as effectively, or even better, from home. This has shifted their perceptions of office-based work, making long commutes and expensive rent less appealing. As a result, job seekers are becoming more vocal about their expectations and are even rejecting higher-paying positions that require daily office attendance.” 

Forced to return

While talent in Malaysia expects work flexibility, the reality is different. One in two respondents indicated that their employers have introduced mandatory five-day office work policies. Only 9% work less than two days a week in the office. Additionally, one in 10 respondents said that their employers do not have any flexible work policies in place.

“Flexible work arrangements not only benefit employees by enhancing work-life balance and autonomy but also have significant advantages for employers. By offering these options, organisations can expand their talent pool to include individuals like persons with disabilities and caregivers. This fosters equal opportunities, expands the workforce, elevates employee skills, and contributes to economic growth. In addition to flexible work policies, employers have a range of initiatives available to create a more inclusive and equitable workplace,” Naeem said. 

In today's complex global environment, companies need to recognise that employees are diverse individuals with unique experiences and perspectives that shape their goals and impact their work, he said. 

Turning a blind eye to this potential storm brewing will have an adverse impact on the office sub-sector which has been slowly recovering and finding a new balance in the new normal.

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