Two of the top five hardest working cities in the world are in Southeast Asia, according to a report published in August this year.
US-based office security provider Kisi conducted a study of 40 cities across the world to rate them in orders of work intensity, institutional support for societal needs, and city livability.
Singapore and Kuala Lumpur ranked second and fourth respectively as the most overworked cities in the world, with Tokyo bagging the number one spot.
The study analysed factors such as length of commute, arrival time at work, hours clocked per week, and vacation days taken per year to assign a work intensity score on each city.
Employees in KL work the longest at 46 hours per week. Singapore follows closely behind at 44.6 hours.
At the extreme end of the spectrum, almost a quarter (23%) of workers in the Lion City profess to working more than 48 hours a week. The same goes for 22% of workers in KL.
Both cities also enjoy far less vacation days versus global champion Barcelona at 30.5 days.
Folks in KL take 12.3 days off for leisure on average per year, whereas Singaporeans take an average of 14 days.
The legal minimum of 7 days for Singapore and 8 days for Malaysia puts both countries at the very bottom of the pile as far as legally mandated paid time off policies are concerned.
Local labour laws have indeed much catching up to do to be on par with global employment practices.
Working hard though, is rarely the same as working smart.
Unsurprisingly, Western Europe and Scandinavia came up in the world’s top five cities for work-life balance.
Obvious winner Helsinki clocks 40 hour-workweeks and enjoys 28.7 vacation days on average per year.
OECD’s data on labour productivity in 2018 reveal the following: Finns contribute US$61.30 per hour to their national GDP.
By contrast, workers in Japan – home to the world’s most hardworking employees – contribute only US$45.88 per hour.
The question of why employees in KL and Singapore clock such long hours is often attributed to a competitive work culture, which some may deem uniquely Asian.
Furthermore, being connected all the time is a daily bane for knowledge workers here, blurring the line between work and life.
To erase this culture of competition and the pressure to succeed and rise ahead would be impossible, and counter-productive.
Playing devil’s advocate is Alibaba’s Jack Ma, who applauds China’s hugely popular 996 ethos in tech circles – working 9AM-9M, 6 days a week – as something to be proud of, that optimises work and life.
Interestingly enough, China was left out of the study.
The silver lining for Southeast Asians is that modern technologies could bring with them the happy promise of making work more fun and palatable.
Demand for flexible workspaces in Asia far exceeded that of global benchmarks in 2018.
Moreover, 42% of 1,000 IT decision makers in Asia surveyed earlier this year are planning to upgrade their IT infrastructure to make way for digital transformation initiatives. Another 35% expect to harness technologies to improve the employee experience and enhance productivity.
An MRT station in KL ferrying commuters to and from work every day. Photo by Joshua Anand on Unsplash.