Malaysians struggle with long WFH hours during Covid-19 pandemic

A total of 67 per cent of Malaysians experienced stress due to changes in work routines and organisation, according to a survey. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - When Madam Nur Farahin Abdul Hamid was first told to work from home (WFH) due to the pandemic, the 36-year-old human resource officer was ecstatic.

But soon, she realised that she no longer had time for herself and her family.

"I've been consistently receiving 'urgent requests' via WhatsApp from my boss, as late as 10pm. And they keep on coming no matter how late it is," she told The Straits Times.

The mother of three children, aged three to seven, has been working from home on and off since last year.

"I feel so burnt out, especially when I still have to work beyond normal hours while cooking and attending to my crying child. This is worse than being stuck in traffic every day for an hour to commute to work," she said.

Similarly, digital marketing consultant Khairul Anwar Khalid, 27, has been made to work even on Saturdays and Sundays to "offset the perks" of not having to go to the office.

"I've been clocking about 75 to 85 hours a week since we started WFH (last year) - that's about 15 hours a day. It's also 'compulsory' for my colleagues and I to share our live locations when we start work at 8am," he told ST.

"Once, I was queried for 'being away' from my home - it was 1.30pm and I was picking up my food from a nearby stall 1km away."

Overwhelmed, Mr Khairul plucked up the courage to highlight the issues to his boss.

But the reply was "disappointing". Despite his superior acknowledging the challenges faced by the staff, he said: "Since all of you are allowed to work in the comfort of your home, I expect all of you to be more productive."

Mr Khairul said: "I've been on anti-anxiety medicine since April and contemplating quitting the job, but I'm worried I won't have enough to survive till the pandemic is over."

Madam Farahin and Mr Khairul are not alone. Hundreds of posts shared by social media users on Twitter highlighted the "ugly" side of WFH during the pandemic.

In Malaysia, about 65 per cent of those polled said last year that they were in a WFH arrangement, in a survey by market research firm Ipsos.

The survey, which was conducted between November and December last year, showed that Malaysians experienced the highest level of anxiety over job security - at 74 per cent, with Saudi Arabia coming in second, just one percentage point behind.

According to the poll, 67 per cent of Malaysians also experienced stress due to changes in work routines and organisation, while 63 per cent claimed to have difficulties finding work-life balance.

The Department of Labour of Peninsular Malaysia has received reports from employees who alleged that their employers are making them work beyond regular hours and on rest days.

"If they feel like they've been pressured into working beyond what is stipulated under the contract, please file a complaint with us. We will investigate," a senior official from the department, who declined to be named, told ST.

"Although there is no provision which states that an employer is not allowed to contact an employee after the normal working hours, it is a given that there is a line that shouldn't be crossed. In any circumstance, we encourage both sides to honour the contract even when WFH," the senior officer added.

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