Penangites, How are We Doing with Work-life Balance?

WHAT IS THE state of work-life balance (WLB) in this unprecedented era of lockdowns and remote working? Penang Monthly asks Penangites their views through a survey conducted in April.

Eighty-seven respondents completed the online survey. Nearly two-thirds are women, and more than half of all respondents are between 25-34 years old. About half (56.3%) are single and 36.8% married. But more than 90% hold at least tertiary qualifications.

The vast majority are employees, while the rest are employers or own-account workers. Full-time workers constitute 92% (working at least 30 hours per week). In terms of industry, three-quarters are involved in the services sector, and about 22% in manufacturing. Corresponding to this young age group, about 35.6% hold junior positions, 24.1% are from senior levels while 18.4% are from middle management. (Figure 1).

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Figure 2 shows the average WLB satisfaction broken down by various demographics. In our sample, no difference in satisfaction is found between the genders, nor is satisfaction subject to a change in marital status. In contrast, those aged between 30-34 and above 45 years old have relatively higher satisfaction [average satisfaction = 3.1 (satisfied)] than the young and middle-age cohorts [average satisfaction = 2.6 (somewhat dissatisfied)].

WLB also increased according to education and job position levels. On average, employers and own-account workers are slightly more satisfied with their WLB than employees. Part-time workers also have higher satisfaction (3.9) than full-timers (2.7).

The respondents were asked to rate their satisfaction of three specific factors, namely workplace policies, work and non-work aspects. Table 1 lists the items under each aspect. Based on Figure 3, the overall WLB satisfaction is correlated with both satisfaction of work and non-work aspects – as satisfaction with work and non-work aspects improve, so does that of overall WLB. However, there is little or no correlation between the satisfaction of overall WLB with that of workplace policies.

The rates of availability and usage of the policies positively correlate with their satisfaction levels (Figure 4). Annual, sick, compassionate and maternity leaves are the most common benefits offered by companies (high availability), but employees’ satisfaction towards maternity leave is slightly lower than the other three. It might be possible that other aspects of maternity leave, such as its length, are deemed unsatisfactory. Childcare policies are the least-offered policies, and score the lowest satisfaction (Figure 4a).

High usage and satisfaction of certain policies such as time-off, flexible working hours and remote working indicate their popularity (Figure 4b). However, only about 50% of employees report that their companies adopt these policies. It is encouraged that more companies implement them to improve employees’ satisfaction of their companies’ policies.

When respondents were asked for the top activities they spent the most time on during a typical work day, watching videos / TV programmes is the most common choice (Figure 5a). Family interactions are considered important too (30%), as are sports activities (27.5%). Personal growth and skill development also matter to our respondents – taking study or training courses is chosen by 16.2% of respondents.

During days off, the order of activities change significantly (Figure 5b). Respondents spend more time with family and friends, as well as on their hobbies, and less on videos or TV programmes.

These numbers show how Penangites in our sample spend their leisure time. For some, leisure time is truly meant for leisure and personal development, while others devote their time to caring for others. Television is almost synonymous with after-work hours, trumping family interactions during weekdays, but we see the reverse on the weekends. We also see that lifelong learning in the form of study or training courses is one of the priorities of working adults.

Figures 6a and 6b are density plots of hours spent on working on a typical work and non-work day respectively1, disaggregated by gender and WLB satisfaction. During a typical work day, our respondents work an average of 8.7 hours a day. There are no discernible differences between the genders on aggregate. Men work an average of 8.8 hours and women 8.7 hours. Sixty-two percent work on days off too with hours averaging between 3.7-4 hours, roughly half of a full day’s work. This is possibly due to substantial workload and the ability to work remotely.

Interesting patterns emerge when the data are divided by satisfaction with WLB. Figures 6a and 6b show that long working hours are also linked to dissatisfaction with WLB. Dissatisfied respondents report working longer than those who are satisfied. From our sample, they tend to work 9-9.4 hours on a work day and 4-4.5 hours during days off, whereas satisfied workers put in 8.4-8.5 hours and 2-3 hours respectively.

However, what is interesting is that some adults who work long hours (> 9 hours) are satisfied with their WLB, while those with short hours are dissatisfied. This suggests that long hours are not necessarily perceived as a negative nor are the hours the only factor of WLB satisfaction.

Another factor that should be considered is the mismatch between desired and actual hours of work. Studies suggest that stress results when workers find themselves unable to control their working hours, or are insufficiently compensated for overtime work.2

1 These can be thought of as smoothed histograms. The area under each curve adds up to a probability of 1, and shows what percentage of respondents worked 10 hours or less, for example.
2 Holly, Sarah; Mohnen, Alwine (2012): Impact of working hours on worklife balance, SOEP papers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research, No. 465, Deutsches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung (DIW), Berlin.

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