How to help employees navigate the impacts of inflation

The song lyrics state “more money, more problems”, but in the case of the average Malaysian employee grappling with inflation and stagnant salaries, I’m not sure how accurate this is. 

The truth is, Malaysia’s inflation rates reaching a five-year high is having profound effects on everyone – and for younger Gen Z employees, this is probably the first time they’re experiencing inflation. In fact, multiple studies have found that Gen Z’s globally are struggling to save money and meet financial goals, and most can’t pay their bills on time. Perhaps the lyrics should be, “Same money, worse problems”. 

The rising cost of living is reported to have affected Malaysians in many ways, such as skipping meals, or dealing with heightened stress and anxiety. And all these issues – although not directly linked to work – seep into the workplace and can affect the happiness and overall engagement of your people. 

What do Malaysian employees need to feel secure?

We can’t beat around the bush – it’s tough times out there. After a pandemic boom, we have seen the tech industry engaging in mass layoffs globally, which will likely have a trickle-down effect to other sectors. 

The obvious answer to help employees beat the effects of inflation is to increase salaries and benefits – but we know that wage adjustments aren’t always going to be possible as an immediate measure. 

According to Employment Hero’s Remote Work Report, 37% of Malaysians believe remote or hybrid working can help them save on expenses. Being able to work from home helps them save on food, transport and childcare fees, they say. In comparison with other markets, Malaysian talent was also more likely to rely on a secondary income stream to supplement their wealth, with 66% of malaysian having a secondary income stream – so even if you can’t offer money as a means of help, there are other ways you can make a difference to your staff’s lives: 

1. Give them more money  
Ultimately, this is what employees want, but as mentioned above, it’s not always an immediate solution. What we’ve seen however, is that some businesses in APAC have been conducting off-cycle wage reviews to help employees cope, while others plan to provide lump sums to offset inflation.

Inflation has accelerated the need for employers to reevaluate compensation and benefits strategies. Malaysia is expected to see a 2.2% actual wage increase in 2023, so the onus is on employers to reassess salaries and ensure your company is able to remain in line with, or more competitive than, the average wage. 

2. Implement hybrid working (if you haven’t already)  

According to the Employment Hero Remote Work Report, while 86% of Malaysian workers worked remotely or hybrid style in 2020 and 2021, 55% of the workforce have now returned to the office full time in 2022. In fact, 43% of those who have returned to the office full-time say it was a directive from their employer – but a significant percentage (47%) would likely consider a position involving remote work on a permanent basis.. Flexible working was highly desirable among Malaysian knowledge workers. 88% of Malaysians want to work remotely at least once a week, with 47% would prefer 2-3 days a week.

Aside from it being better for work-life balance and mental health, 37% of employees have said that hybrid work is better for their personal finances, as they save on commuting and food expenses. Allowing your employees the choice of a hybrid work setting could also have a spillover benefit of improved productivity, quality of work and overall employee wellbeing

3. Consider allowing employees a secondary income stream 

As Malaysians grapple with the rising cost of living, a majority (66%) now have a secondary income stream. This statistic is not one that should necessarily worry employers, as 78% of employees agree their productivity at work has not been affected by other income streams, and 77% agree their secondary income improves their quality of life. 

While having multiple jobs is certainly a less traditional approach (and employees need to carefully check their employment contracts to make sure they’re not in breach) it shouldn’t be automatically dismissed as an option. As long as there’s no impact to an employee’s performance, it’s clear Malaysian workers enjoy the freedom to take up alternative revenue streams to help make ends meet. 

Ultimately, it comes down to building a positive work environment. Employees who feel supported by their employers and have their needs taken seriously are far more likely to stay – not to mention have the motivation to give their best, which will ultimately lead to more overall better outcomes for the business. 

By Alex Hattingh, Chief People Officer at Employment Hero

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