Malaysia Working Culture: Practices & Differences

5 min read|Last Updated: April 1, 2024|

The work culture in Malaysia is unique; people who work there will experience situations which are rarely experienced in workplaces of other countries.

This culture stems primarily from Islamic cultures as Malaysia is an Islamic country. Practices such as dressing modestly and an allowance of a 2-hour lunch break on Fridays for congregational prayers are byproducts of the Islamic culture.

Learning about the work culture within Malaysia will help build stronger relationships within the office. Be it learning how to greet someone properly, or understanding the hierarchy in the workplace, these cultural nuances can make a big difference in how one relates with his or her colleagues, clients, and bosses. By displaying respect and understanding of Malaysian culture, an individual will then be able to establish trust and rapport swiftly.

Work Practices in Malaysia

With its cultural diversity, work practices such as working hours, employment laws, and more can be different. Let’s deep into the more common work practices in Malaysia.

1. Working hours

The Malaysian Employment Act defines a work week as 48 hours of work per week. It also states that there is to be a maximum of eight working hours per day and six working days per week.

Women working in the industrial or agricultural sectors are not permitted to work between the hours of 10pm and 5am as they are protected under the Employment Law to uphold their rights of working in the night.

Normal business hours in Malaysia are 9am to 5pm from Mondays to Fridays and it is common for many businesses and government agencies to be open until noon on Saturdays.

2. Youth employment

Malaysian workers are eligible for full-time employment when they turn 14; however, certain protective regulations apply to adolescents of between the ages of 14 and 16.

Labour laws related to employees of such ages in Peninsular Malaysia differ from those of Sabah and Sarawak. Those under 14 years old may only work for up to six hours per day and in non-physical areas of work.

3. Holidays

Malaysian labour laws allow for a minimum of 10 days of paid holidays in a year. The considerable degree of religious diversity which exists in Malaysian society requires such to be the case.

The many different religions in Malaysia as well as the freedom to practice these religions allow for Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Christian holidays to be observed as public holidays.

Employment in Malaysia

Malaysia’s total workforce of consists of over 16 million people, thus, approximately 50% of Malaysia’s population are part of its workforce.

Despite the percentage of Malaysia’s total work force rising since the year before, Malaysia’s unemployment rate had raised to a 4.8% in 2021, up from the relatively constant rate between 3%-4% in 2019 and before, mainly due to the effects of the pandemic.

To work in Malaysia, a work visa will be required.

Malaysia Corporate Secretary Ramu

Differences in Malaysia’s Work Culture

Just like any other country, Malaysia has a distinctive work culture a differs from those of other countries in significant ways.

1. Breaks

Employee breaks in Malaysia tend to be shorter than those of several other countries. Some companies, however, permit their employees to have a further break later in the afternoon.

Conversely, break durations abroad like in Italy and Greece tend to be longer than those in Malaysia because it is believed that longer breaks will ultimately serve to increase the productivity levels of employees.

2. Attending to Work Matters Outside Working Hours

Many Malaysian employees receive messages and emails which concern work matters outside working hours and are usually expected to respond to these messages immediately.

In countries abroad, laws have been introduced to waive employees of this requirement to respond to work-related messages outside working hours so as to prevent overwork and burnout on the part of the employees.

3. Parental Leave

In Malaysia, private sector employees receive 60 days of maternity leave and it is not common for employees to receive paternity leave as there are no laws enforcing it.

Maternity leave lengths in other parts of the world differ greatly, some may last for as short as four weeks or as long as one year. Many other countries also offer paternity leave such as Hungary.

Problems Often Faced in a Malaysian Workplace

No workplace is perfect. However, there is a common theme of problems that many have experienced while working in a Malaysian workplace and this should be noted.

1. Passive-aggressive behaviour

One of the most common problems is passive-aggressive behaviour in the workplace. Passive-aggressive behaviour often happens through blaming of colleagues, deliberate failure to deliver on promises made, or even betrayal and sabotage of colleagues.

This is commonly due to jealousy or self-preservation. It is also common for employees to be unfamiliar with direct confrontation due to their upbringing.

2. Overwork

The amount by which many Malaysian workers exceed their contracted working hours surpasses those of most other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, ranking 1st amongst 50 cities for longest hours worked and 4th for the most overworked city.

3. Inability to leave the workplace on time

Some employers become unjustly offended when their employees leave before they do even if the employees in question have completed their daily work hours.

4. Unrealistic targets

All companies deem it important for their employees to achieve the targets and goals set however, it is common for employers to set unrealistic targets. This puts an unnecessary amount of pressure placed on the employees and will result in a higher workload.

Working in Malaysia

Despite the difficulties faced in a Malaysian workplace, Malaysia ranked as 6th when it comes to ease of doing business and has attracted many global talents because of its standard of living in the country.


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How can Foreigners best adapt to Malaysia’s work culture?2024-04-01T16:50:35+08:00

There are several ways through which foreigners can best adapt to Malaysian work culture. Among these is by understanding the hierarchical culture of Malaysian society.

Foreigners should also be willing and ready to socialize with Malaysians at any time. They must also display proper values, morality, and ethics in front of their employers as well as other Malaysian citizens. Foreigners are also advised to learn to read and speak Malay as it would be very much to their benefit.

Do Employees in Malaysia have to work longer hours than Employees in other Countries?2024-04-01T16:50:43+08:00

The average duration of a workday in Malaysia is nine hours, including one hour for a lunch break. This duration is similar to those of most other countries; however, it is also common for many employees in Malaysia to be required to work beyond these hours.

How different is the work culture in a Malaysian Company compared to that of a Foreign Company based in Malaysia?2024-04-01T16:50:51+08:00

There are not many significant differences between the work culture of a foreign company based in Malaysia as compared to that of a Malaysian company. This is because the foreign company is usually regarded as a resident company of Malaysia.

Thus, in many ways, work culture in a Malaysia-based foreign company mimics that of a Malaysian company, though there may be slight differences.

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