By : Harris Iskandar
“Is there work-life balance here?” – a frequently asked question in job interviews today.
It remains a contentious topic. Employers who are for it, want to attract talent and be in line with trends. However, those who are against, dismiss the idea thinking it could lead to lower productivity.
There are even employers who seem to agree with the idea in principle, but in reality could not afford to practice it. Reduced productivity is a cost to companies.
The quote below is an aphorism that illustrates how societies triumph and later collapse.
Whether or not you agree with the quote, one thing is clear – the cycle is unsustainable. Why must there be a cycle? Why cannot there be a system that can sustainably improve society continuously?
The given aphorism is an old quote – dated since the Greeks. Society has developed and evolved. We have learnt the importance of sustainability.
While the above quote may be true for many civilisations throughout history (the fall of Sparta, the fall of Mongols) it does not necessarily mean it is true for all, especially in current times.
During the golden age of Renaissance back in the 1500 – people were enjoying good times and innovation was at its peak.
For the sake of argument, we assume that Malaysia is now in good times. At the time of this writing, we have just experienced a transition back to normality after the pandemic and the economy is growing again.
Companies and governments are now introducing flexible hours, four day work week and hybrid office-home work arrangement.
Nevertheless, we wonder whether this ‘good time’ would create weak men which in turn create hard times.
The societal reforms towards more flexible working arrangements are put into such a negative light as they go against hustle culture. The culture of “working till you drop, nonstop overtime” – a grind mindset.
Many perceive that lack of a hustle mindset would make people ‘soft’ or ‘weak’ as society becomes too comfortable.
They are not used to highly stressed environments or pressure leading them to a life of mediocrity, because if you are not hustling, you are slacking.
Therefore the cycle repeats itself, bringing society to hard times once more. But it does not have to be this way.
The reforms that we in Malaysia and the world push for can be beneficial to us now and in the future.
The key is to create a culture of working smart.
Everyone needs to understand that more hours does not mean more productivity. We have to create systems to improve efficiency that yields more productivity with less effort and time.
The use of technology is important, as well as inculcating values of integrity in our society, especially on how they use their time.
This would then allow for more free time, work-life balance and healthier mental state. It allows society to develop themselves in a more human-centric way. There will be more introspection, more time to develop themselves as a human.
There is no use living in a wealthy country but with high suicide rates or broken family institutions. At the end of the day, what are we as a society striving for? Wealth or happiness?
We all know wealth does not equate to happiness.
What we are afraid of is complacency that leads to lower productivity. Such a state would lead to poverty. But if there is a concerted effort by all parties, companies, governments and employees to increase work efficiency, we can avoid it altogether.
For example, a company that is looking to introduce less work days in a week, should study how they select employees.
If, from the onset, an employer has a way of selecting talent who are responsible, works smart, honest in how they spend their work time, empowerment given in the form of greater flexibility may yield better productivity.
It all goes back to understanding human behavior and creating an innovative way that can unleash their optimal potential.
This human-centric development is what benefits society as a whole. A breather… can work wonders.
That is a future that is attainable by Malaysia if we know how to create a new, responsible work culture. That is a future that we can sustain.
In short, failure to instill the right values and culture will lead to disaster if more flexibility is given. However, if a society has integrity, work-life balance can lead to harmony and advancement.