A new phenomenon is shaking the Malaysian corporate world to its core. Smart employees no longer conform to the conventional organisational approaches that are supposed to determine their level of performance and thus yield success. Employees now carve out their own paths to success by opting out of the 8-to 5 rat race and setting their own terms. The old expression of working for a living has now become ‘work to live’.
Employees are demanding flexible working arrangements, even leaving for other firms in order to meet the demands of their personal lifestyles. Unlike previous generations of employees who were wedded ‘to death do us part’ to an employer, today’s generation creates their own Kaleidoscope Careers to suit their preferences. Kaleidoscope Careers are those created and defined by a person’s values, choices and limitations. Similar to an actual kaleidoscope, careers are dynamic and as people pass through life changes, careers are altered to suit these changes, rather than allow the organisation rule their lives.
The shift in attitude emerged not only as a result of issues of work-life balance, but also by the complex interaction among issues of authenticity (being true to oneself), balance (relationships and care-giving) and challenge (self-worth, career advancement).
The challenge is even greater for women. They are expected to meet the dual responsibilities of career and home, while the men are free of household tasks and demands. Women adapt and change their career objectives in accordance with relational needs and demands. They know their decisions have a major impact on those who are dear to them, while men are free to continue to pursue work challenges.
In 20 years Malaysia is set to witness a new development in the employment sector as more and more women switch jobs to adapt to their personal lifestyles. This trend will be increasingly pronounced and observable when more new mothers are forced to shoulder more responsibilities than their other halves. New mothers are not just expected to raise children and bring bread to the table, but also to take on the role of caretakers for their entire family. Such new responsibilities have more often than not forced career-focused women to make adjustments in their career, even switching from their current profession to another that will help them fulfil their newly acquired roles and responsibilities, hence the term ’change of hearts’.
According to Prime Minister Najib Razak, “to build economies that are both sustainable and successful, it is clear that women should play a lead role” (Razak, 2013). However, the current female labour force participation rate in Malaysia is 53.6 percent compared to 70 percent in Thailand and 60 percent in Singapore despite the fact that women make up almost half the Malaysian population (Yeoh, 2014)
To enhance female participation in the local workforce, several measures have been proposed, though the benefits seem to accrue only to companies rather than career women. Among the propositions offered are flexible working arrangements, telecommuting, and, of no less importance, the setting up of nurseries in and around the workplace. Although these propositions are deemed fair and just, they fail to take into consideration the work demands and the pressures faced by working mothers.
Questions arise on the effects of flexible work arrangements on women. Will these flexible employees be perceived in the same manner as their full-time colleagues, or would they only be looked upon as job-sharers? Would the flexible work arrangements be able to provide job security? Or would they be dismissed should a downturn in the economy occur? Moreover, although presented as a convenience, flexible work arrangements also require setting up of home offices. Who is responsible for these overhead expenses? And since work and home spaces are no longer separate in such arrangements, how do flexible workers draw boundaries on how much time is spent at work? Telecommunication technologies such as email and mobile phones are well known for prolonging and extending the work day: workers are expected to be on call or reachable at all times even when outside the office. Given that flexible work is highly reliant on such technologies, do such arrangements necessarily deliver the work-life balance they promise?
This article suggests a substitute explanation to the Kaleidoscope career model that can match the concerns of workers with the demands of their careers. This model fits women's careers well and serves as a means of understanding how women operate relationally with others in both work and non-work domains. Similar to a kaleidoscope’s changing patterns when the tube is rotated, women are able to modify their career patterns by changing different aspects in their lives to rearrange their roles and relationships (Mainiero & Sullivan, 2005). The strategies that women executives can use to increase their career success, as well as how organisations can create an improved workplace that will attract and retain talented women, is discussed below.
A recent posting in www.utusan.com.my described the case of Elsa Austin (28). A career woman who became pregnant, Elsa chose to quit the corporate world. According to the talent recruitment coordinator of a large bank, that drastic decision had to be made because Elsa wanted to breastfeed her child fulltime and was reluctant to leave her newborn with a babysitter. Her decision to take a three-year break was one she has never regretted. Now that her child has grown, Elsa has since rejoined the workforce, and is thus able to earn her own income.