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This content was produced by The Star Malaysia in collaboration with Milieu Insight.

PETALING JAYA —  Working mothers are pressed for time in fulfilling work and family commitments, and often overlook their own well-being, according to a study by a survey software company.

In its latest study on “South-East Asian Mothers at Work”, Milieu Insight found that six out of 10 working mothers in the region struggle to find time for both work and family commitments.

More than half of the Malaysians polled believed that remote work and flexible arrangements would improve their chances of achieving work-life balance and career advancement.

The company’s proprietary survey community polled 3,000 working mothers across South-East Asia, including Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand.

More than one-third of respondents in Malaysia said they struggled to care for themselves and were also racked with guilt when they prioritised work over family responsibilities.

Almost one-third of Malaysian respondents also said job discrimination and unequal pay was among the challenges they faced.

Other challenges included finding reliable childcare options and lack of supportive workplace policies.

Experts say the figures may under-represent reality.

“I believe there are more working mothers who struggle with balancing work and family responsibilities, especially those with kids under 12 years old,” said Prof Dr Rumaya Juhari of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Faculty of Human Ecology, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM).

She said the situation is reflective of the declining fertility rates across Asia and why incentives on having babies such as in Singapore, South Korea and Japan do not resolve the underlying problem.

Over the past 50 years, the fertility rate among Malaysians has also decreased rapidly, from four children in 1980 to 1.6 children per woman aged 15-49 in 2023.

Singapore’s total fertility rate dropped to a record low of 0.97 last year, while South Korea recorded 0.72.

Prof Rumaya said it is apparent that more Malaysians want fewer children, a fact that’s prevalent especially among the Chinese ethnic group.

“However, based on my observation, all ethnic groups do not favour having more than two kids,” she said.

Prof Rumaya also said among the reasons are those related to the rising cost of raising children, time constraints, worries on future uncertainties as well as the curtailing of individual freedom.

To ease such plight of working mothers, employers must commit to a work-life balance policy, she noted.

“Childcare centres, flexible working hours or options for partial work from home based on types of jobs and assignments should be available,” she said.

Prof Rumaya said society must learn to embrace the “improved gender role”, where household chores and child caregiving tasks are shared between the couple and household members.

“Women must work smart both at home and the workplace. Those with higher income could pay for cleaning and cooking services that would otherwise take much of their time at home.

“Cook simple yet nutritious meals, coach your spouse to do things too and children need to be taught to do their share of housework as well,” she said.

Prof Rumaya said it is important for mothers to take care of their mental and emotional health as they are among the main pillars of their family.

“If the mother is overly stressed, she could become violent towards her own children. So it is important for mothers to prioritise their health and well-being,” she said.

UPM’s Malaysian Research Institute on Ageing (MyAgeing) senior research officer Chai Sen Tyng said mothers sacrifice more whether they return to the workforce and juggle their roles as working mothers or as full-time housewives.

“There is a ‘motherhood penalty’ as women are often forced to choose between their career and continue being employed and performing childbearing or childrearing roles.

“A homemaker is a full-time role but it’s a job without formal employment benefits.

“With unrealistic societal expectations and judgement regardless of their choice, most mothers are also being too hard on themselves,” he said.

Chai said mothers need a lot of tangible and non-tangible support.

“Recognising changing gender roles also means that the men have to step up.

“Companies must realise that working parents have familial responsibilities and meaningful options should be provided, not just crutches or day care at offices,” he said.

He said female labour force participation cannot be improved without making provisions for child and aged care.

Work-life balance is a significant challenge for 60% of working mothers in the SEA region

Flexible hours and remote work may improve the quality of life for working mothers.
Milieu Team
May 12, 2024
MINS READ
Work-life balance is a significant challenge for 60% of working mothers in the SEA region
Illustration:

This content was produced by The Star Malaysia in collaboration with Milieu Insight.

PETALING JAYA —  Working mothers are pressed for time in fulfilling work and family commitments, and often overlook their own well-being, according to a study by a survey software company.

In its latest study on “South-East Asian Mothers at Work”, Milieu Insight found that six out of 10 working mothers in the region struggle to find time for both work and family commitments.

More than half of the Malaysians polled believed that remote work and flexible arrangements would improve their chances of achieving work-life balance and career advancement.

The company’s proprietary survey community polled 3,000 working mothers across South-East Asia, including Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand.

More than one-third of respondents in Malaysia said they struggled to care for themselves and were also racked with guilt when they prioritised work over family responsibilities.

Almost one-third of Malaysian respondents also said job discrimination and unequal pay was among the challenges they faced.

Other challenges included finding reliable childcare options and lack of supportive workplace policies.

Experts say the figures may under-represent reality.

“I believe there are more working mothers who struggle with balancing work and family responsibilities, especially those with kids under 12 years old,” said Prof Dr Rumaya Juhari of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Faculty of Human Ecology, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM).

She said the situation is reflective of the declining fertility rates across Asia and why incentives on having babies such as in Singapore, South Korea and Japan do not resolve the underlying problem.

Over the past 50 years, the fertility rate among Malaysians has also decreased rapidly, from four children in 1980 to 1.6 children per woman aged 15-49 in 2023.

Singapore’s total fertility rate dropped to a record low of 0.97 last year, while South Korea recorded 0.72.

Prof Rumaya said it is apparent that more Malaysians want fewer children, a fact that’s prevalent especially among the Chinese ethnic group.

“However, based on my observation, all ethnic groups do not favour having more than two kids,” she said.

Prof Rumaya also said among the reasons are those related to the rising cost of raising children, time constraints, worries on future uncertainties as well as the curtailing of individual freedom.

To ease such plight of working mothers, employers must commit to a work-life balance policy, she noted.

“Childcare centres, flexible working hours or options for partial work from home based on types of jobs and assignments should be available,” she said.

Prof Rumaya said society must learn to embrace the “improved gender role”, where household chores and child caregiving tasks are shared between the couple and household members.

“Women must work smart both at home and the workplace. Those with higher income could pay for cleaning and cooking services that would otherwise take much of their time at home.

“Cook simple yet nutritious meals, coach your spouse to do things too and children need to be taught to do their share of housework as well,” she said.

Prof Rumaya said it is important for mothers to take care of their mental and emotional health as they are among the main pillars of their family.

“If the mother is overly stressed, she could become violent towards her own children. So it is important for mothers to prioritise their health and well-being,” she said.

UPM’s Malaysian Research Institute on Ageing (MyAgeing) senior research officer Chai Sen Tyng said mothers sacrifice more whether they return to the workforce and juggle their roles as working mothers or as full-time housewives.

“There is a ‘motherhood penalty’ as women are often forced to choose between their career and continue being employed and performing childbearing or childrearing roles.

“A homemaker is a full-time role but it’s a job without formal employment benefits.

“With unrealistic societal expectations and judgement regardless of their choice, most mothers are also being too hard on themselves,” he said.

Chai said mothers need a lot of tangible and non-tangible support.

“Recognising changing gender roles also means that the men have to step up.

“Companies must realise that working parents have familial responsibilities and meaningful options should be provided, not just crutches or day care at offices,” he said.

He said female labour force participation cannot be improved without making provisions for child and aged care.