Can Flexible Working Hours Improve Productivity and Men’s Participation in Childcare? Getting on PM Muhyiddin’s Case

Some may argue that this is just a blatant glorification of the whole “I work on my own terms” mindset of the current generation – our generation – but hey, if it works, why complain?

With Malaysia in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, unemployment rates have soared and those with jobs are fearing for their own security. Given that the latest statistic for new cases has risen to 122 as of 5th May, the call to reduce police roadblocks and move onward to a more “relaxed” MCO is looking more and more like a bad idea. 

Just a few days ago the number of new cases was within the double-digit range. We couldn’t help but raise our hopes: are we finally seeing the beginning of the end to this horrid season?

As the numbers spiked back up, I daresay we won’t be privy to any respite from this virus for another six months.

But life goes on and we all have to make do one way or another. People need to work and children need their education, and Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin has finally taken a stance to encourage the implementation of flexible working hours.

Source: Bernama

Remember when the Pakatan Harapan government introduced their version of flexible working hours? Just having a one-hour difference in clocking into work and leaving the office is barely going to do much in terms of childcare.

But the PM is taking things a step further by encouraging employers to allow their staff to work from home, and even suggested that couples with children take alternate working days to ensure that at least one parent is home to care for the child.

This, I think, is a brilliant idea provided that it’s done right. 

Shorter working hours, higher productivity levels

I was listening to The Good Life Podcast on Spotify and in one of their episodes, Ustaz Mizi Wahid and Nur interviewed Nik Mahirah, the People Operations Manager at Mindvalley. She shared some insights into the company’s culture and work environment. For a huge edu-tech company like Mindvalley to implement a flexible working hour policy, it has to account for something. 

According to Nik Mahirah, they even have employees coming in to work during the wee hours of the night! Staff members are essentially given full responsibility for their own schedules as long as they get the job done.

Some may argue that this is just a blatant glorification of the whole “I work on my own terms” mindset of the current generation – our generation – but hey, if it works, why complain?

Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

To support this argument, let’s take a look at the law of diminishing returns. Put a staff member to work in front of a computer at 9 AM, and have them sit there until 6 PM with a one-hour lunch break in between. Let’s compare that with someone who works in two-hour bursts. Does it mean that the latter is less productive than the former because he spent less time working?

Do you remember a time when you’ve spent several hours working and then realize you’ve lost steam? That’s the law doing its thing.

There have been many studies advocating for shorter workdays. It’s nothing new.

CEO and co-founder of Collective Campus, Steve Glaveski, found that his team’s productivity shot through the roof when he cut the usual eight-hour workday to just six hours. His staff produced better quality work and were happier as they had more time for family, friends, and their own hobbies. It forced them to prioritize and use their time more efficiently and effectively

Let’s be honest, the 9-to-5 isn’t for everybody

In my own personal experience, I find that I work best in the quiet hours past midnight. Especially now that it’s Ramadhan, my brain can barely function during the day. Furthermore, I have no more incentive to wake up early for my morning coffee. So, to adapt, I’ve turned my daily schedule on to its head by waking up in the afternoon and then working way past midnight.

Way, way, way past midnight.

And I’ve found that my thoughts are clearer, my brain can function much better, and I can work for 3-4 hour stretches, sometimes more. I find myself effortlessly producing more engaging, interesting content in the hours between 12 AM and 7 AM than if I were to crack my head from 1 PM to 5 PM. All this without a drop of coffee! 

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Does it make me less productive than the worker who sits at their desk all day from 9 to 5 just because I have a different time slot in which my brain starts to work?

It probably just shows that I’m not suited to your everyday 9-to-5 job. 

Technology is there to be used – use it and stop wasting precious time!

The PM advocated for the use of video calls to set up conferences and meetings, effectively disqualifying the need for staff to enter the office. This is probably due to the whole pandemic situation, but I think it would be a great way to save time should it be carried over after the end of Covid-19.

Now, technology is a double-edged sword. It always has been since the rise of the smartphone. But when used right, technology can be a wonder to work with. 

A simple example that everyone has: the Calendar app. I find it maddeningly frustrating that not enough people around me are using it. I’m always on it, punching in my schedule for weeks and sometimes months into the future. I like knowing what to expect, and it allows me to make the necessary preparations.

Being at university, it would drive me nuts when I had meetings that lasted a minute over one hour. In typical Malaysian fashion, nothing significant happened in spite of the hour-long meetings. Teammates were on their phones scrolling through social media, or in the back chatting away.

To add the cherry on top, whatever we discussed during each meeting could have been discussed over a video call. There was no need to drive twenty minutes, forking out money for fuel and tolls, just to sit through a boring as hell meeting where nothing was accomplished.

With the advent of technology, having meetings is so much easier than ever. If the Agong can do it, why can’t you? (Complete with social distancing, too!)

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23 April 2020 – KDYMM Seri Paduka Baginda Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah Ibni Almarhum Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Al-Musta'in Billah berkenan menerima menghadap Menteri di Jabatan Perdana Menteri (Hal Ehwal Agama) YB Senator Datuk Seri Dr Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri hari ini menerusi sidang video selama 30 minit di Istana Negara. Secara lazimnya, majlis menghadap bersama Seri Paduka Baginda berlangsung secara bersemuka di Istana Negara. Susulan daripada pelaksanaan Perintah Kawalan Pergerakan (PKP) untuk mengekang Covid-19, Seri Paduka Baginda telah berkenan supaya majlis menghadap dan mesyuarat Pra-Kabinet tetap dilaksanakan menerusi sidang video semasa PKP ini berjalan. Ini mencerminkan keprihatinan tinggi Al-Sultan Abdullah terhadap pentadbiran negara dan kesejahteraan rakyat. . His Majesty Seri Paduka Baginda the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah Ibni Almarhum Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah Al-Musta'in Billah consented to receive Minister from the Prime Minister's Department (Islamic Affairs)  YB Senator Datuk Seri Dr Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri for a 30 minute audience via video conferencing at Istana Negara. Usually, an audience or a Pre- Cabinet meeting with His Majesty would be held in Istana Negara but following the implementation of the movement control order (MCO) to help curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, His Majesty has consented to continue these sessions via video conferencing. This reflects the concern His Majesty has towards the administration of the country and the well-being of the people. #agongkita

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It’s time for men to shine and test their mettle in childcare

For those who have no choice but to send their kids to nurseries, by all means do so. But if some parents are allowed to work from home and be present to care for their child, they wouldn’t need to send the child for daycare.

According to the PM, this will translate into fewer children at daycare centers, and caretakers will find it more manageable in following the precautionary steps to ensure proper hygiene, and comply with safety measures.

What if this policy of alternate working days were to extend beyond this season? What if both parents could equally share the responsibility of being physically present with their child during the early growth period, which is a crucial time for the development of proper social skills?

What if alternate working days were to be the new normal for the Malaysian work culture?

It seems like a dream unless you’re a freelancer.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Mothers are almost always saddled with more responsibility at home than their husbands, working or no. According to author and clinical psychologist Darcy Lockman, women tend to do more housework and go above and beyond at home even though it negatively impacts her career (example: running late) to avoid “burdening” their husbands.

And when some women asked their husbands for help to do the exact same thing she had been doing, the husbands found it a massive chore and voiced objections. 

The couples who navigate workload equality the best, I’ve found, don’t just understand that our culture’s biases — and frankly, its baked-in sexism — result in most of the family management defaulting to the mother, but also decide as a couple that they do not want that to happen.

Couples who share the workload at home and are happier with their domestic lives are well aware of the gender politics that gave birth to these biases in the first place. They make a conscious effort to share chores at home equally and take a step back to reevaluate when one partner feels overwhelmed.

It’s worth a shot

Companies may be hesitant or outright resistant to the idea of flexible working hours, but I think there needs to be some level of trust established between employer and employee for it to work.

As a staff member, you have to be accountable for your own work and disciplined enough to get things done, whether or not you’re physically in the office. For employers, perhaps implementing this policy would alleviate some of the pressure felt by staff brought upon them by micromanaging, whether unintentional or not, thereby empowering staff to take control of their own schedules and working style

There’s no knowing for sure unless you try. It’s time for some innovation.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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