As the idea of a four-day work week continues to gain traction across Southeast Asia, new Qualtrics research reveals 60% of full-time employees in the region would prefer the flexibility to work whenever they want over one less day at work (37%). For workers in Malaysia, the preference for flexibility was slightly greater, with 62% opting for it over a shorter work week (48%). Flexibility is also a bigger driver of retention (66%) than a four-day work week (50%) in Southeast Asia.
With organisations across the region continuing to refine ways of working after two years of working remotely, and leaders in Malaysia debating the feasibility of adopting a four-day work week, the Qualtrics findings highlight the importance of successfully aligning the new programs being adopted with the needs and expectations of employees.
For a third of employees in Southeast Asia (33%), flexibility means 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.
Employees open to a four-day work week, but have concerns
While the majority of employees have a preference for flexibility if given the choice, 86% of respondents in the region are open to supporting their employer implementing a four-day work week – predominantly citing improvements to their health and wellbeing as the reasons for doing so. 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. There is also a willingness to take a pay cut to work one less day a week for 60% of respondents in Southeast Asia, with those in Malaysia less willing (54%).
Despite various four-day work week pilots delivering proven benefits – such as improvements to wellbeing in Iceland and an increase to productivity in Japan – many respondents believe there would be trade-offs. 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. In Malaysia, respondents cited longer hours (68%), frustrated customers (62%), and company performance (65%) as their top concerns.
Measuring performance and wellbeing in new work models
As employers navigate this shifting landscape, two key drivers of success for the new ways of working being implemented are prioritising health and wellbeing, and ensuring employees are enabled to succeed in both physical and remote environments.
This is in response to 72% of respondents 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, it was different for those from Malaysia – with more local respondents pointing to a positive impact (30% positive, compared to 22% negative).
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 to the challenges posed by new working models is having employee performance measured by results rather than hours and days worked, with 89% of respondents supportive of this approach. 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.
For organisations rethinking traditional ways of working, the Qualtrics findings reveal the impact of the changes being considered and implemented. Being proactive to understand how employees want to work – and the associated benefits and pitfalls of doing so – will enable employers to make informed decisions ensuring the new ways of working adopted align with the varied needs of the entire workforce. This will help solve problems, such as current health and wellbeing challenges, at the root cause.
“Among the buzz surrounding new working models, employers must not lose sight of the fact that what employees really want and have come accustomed to is the flexibility to adjust their work schedules to fit the demands of their lives,” said Lauren Huntington, Employee Experience Solution Strategist, Southeast Asia, Qualtrics. “Increasingly, we’re seeing people make career decisions and find fulfillment in their jobs by working for organisations that truly understand and respond to their needs, and where they feel they belong. That’s why the most important part of any working model isn’t simply the hours or days worked – it’s being able to understand and meaningfully deliver what people want and expect to ensure everyone – including customers -benefit from the transformations underway.”
About the study
The Qualtrics study was carried out in May 2022, and includes 3,415 respondents 18 years of age or older employed full- or part-time across a range of industries in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, and Singapore. Questions relating to the four-day work week were only answered by full-time employees, totalling 2,846 respondents. 557 respondents were from