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No US-style ‘Great Resignation’ expected in Malaysia

Bosses group MEF says resignations are in fact on the decline although an economist warns that such a scenario is possible as younger workers favour freedom over financial gains.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
3 minute read
While the younger generation might favour freedom in work over financial gains, Malaysia is not expected to experience a mass resignation of workers due to pandemic frustrations, as is being seen in the US.
While the younger generation might favour freedom in work over financial gains, Malaysia is not expected to experience a mass resignation of workers due to pandemic frustrations, as is being seen in the US.

While millions in the US have gone on strike or quit their jobs due to pandemic frustrations in a movement dubbed the “Great Resignation”, a similar situation is not expected to occur in Malaysia although an economist warns that the possibility exists.

As of August, over 30 million Americans were reported to have voluntarily left their jobs, leaving the country to face a labour crisis on top of the nationwide strikes by nurses, factory workers and other labourers.

With terms like “Striketober” making their way across social media and a shift towards freelance work even in countries like China, the Covid-19 crisis has had a strong hand in upending traditional concepts of labour and employment.

But the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) does not foresee any need to brace for similar labour problems in Malaysia.

MEF president Syed Hussain Syed Husman said the group’s data on attrition rates instead indicates a gradual drop in resignations.

“There was a declining trend in the average monthly turnover rate for both executives and non-executives between July 2018 and June 2021,” he told MalaysiaNow.

He added that the average rate for executive resignations decreased from 1.38% between July 2018 and June 2019 to 1.16% (July 2019 to June 2020) and 0.93% (July 2020 to June 2021).

“For the period of July 2020 to June 2021, the average rate for non-executive counterparts was also lower at 1.07%, compared to previous periods at 1.57% (July 2018 to June 2019) and 1.45% (June 2019 to June 2020).”

The Covid-19 pandemic which began in late 2019 caused havoc in the workplace on a global scale as offices were closed, business operations were moved online, and employees were told to work from home to cut the risk of infection.

With many countries now taking a “live with it” approach to the virus, companies have been calling their workers back to the office – a call that, in some cases, is met with mixed reactions.

While some are eager to return to the workplace, others prefer the convenience of working from home. However, the latter option is often also accompanied by complaints of longer working hours and high levels of stress.

In Malaysia, 12,371 workers took voluntary separation schemes from January to June this year while 17,449 were terminated, according to statistics from the human resources ministry.

Unemployment stood at 4.8% in July following a spike in Covid-19 cases and the full lockdown just a month before. However, this decreased to 4.6% in August.

“This is 748,800 people compared to 778,200 in July, as more economic activities were permitted to resume operations,” Syed Hussain said.

He also cited a report by the statistics department showing that the number of employed people rose by 0.5% month-on-month to 15.38 million people in August from 15.29 million in July.

MEF itself expects economic performance next year to increase labour demand, with more job opportunities available in the market.

The economy is forecast to rebound alongside global economic recovery throughout the year-end and into 2022.

“The implementation of economic and fiscal stimulus packages will support Malaysia’s economic growth, which is expected to grow 6.0% and 5.8% as forecast by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, respectively,” he said.

Economist Adilah Zafirah however said that while the numbers do not indicate a similar trend happening in Malaysia, there could be a parallel preference among the younger generation about working conditions.

Adilah, who is attached to the Iris Institute, said young people tend to appreciate a work-life balance over financial benefits.

“If we do not improve our labour market conditions – low pay for tough jobs, low work-life balance, flexibility and so on – it is not impossible that we too might experience a great resignation,” she said.

She added however that several factors remain which might slow down the occurrence of such a phenomenon in the country.

“We are still dependent on foreign labour when it comes to low-skill jobs, and the younger generation is ridden with financial problems and debts due to a lack of financial literary and consumerism.

“It’s tough to resign,” she said.

She also cited a low level of social protection, and the need to support family, among other financial commitments.

Compared to the US and China, she added, Malaysians have less flexibility in terms of work culture while quality internet connection and access to the devices needed to work from home have yet to become commonplace.