KUALA LUMPUR, June 2 — Staying at home during the movement control order (MCO) was either heaven-sent or a living hell, depending on your relationship with your family and housemates.
The unfortunate ones may cry “Sikit stress” or “Very stress” while the luckier ones may claim “Bagus” (“Excellent”) or better yet, “I tak tinggal with my family.” (“I don’t stay with my family.”)
These were the sample multiple-choice answers in the ‘You ok or not during MCO?’ survey conducted by Think City, a social purpose organisation focused on urban rejuvenation and creating more people-friendly cities.
The survey, which ran from May 15-23, was devised by Matt Benson, a programme director for Think City.
He said, “Covid-19 has been an unprecedented event, with the MCO being a unique challenge for all Malaysians. The survey was undertaken to gather baseline data on how Malaysians fared during the MCO.”
An Australian geographer specialising in complex systems and human settlements, Benson also saw an opportunity to document a slice of history, recording how the Malaysian community felt and dealt with the pandemic.
“We structured the survey around what is known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which ranges from basic needs such as food and shelter, to psychological needs like relationships and a sense of achievement. At the apex of the hierarchy are self-fulfilment and spiritual needs, which we also surveyed.”
The survey had a total of 2,240 responses. The main finding is that in general, Malaysians fared reasonably well during the lockdown.
Benson said, “While there were certainly some people who struggled with the basics like paying bills, the majority felt more connected to the rest of humanity, had improved relationships with their family and took the time to reflect spiritually.”
According to the survey, people remained happy and relaxed during the MCO by spending time with family/friends (57 per cent), hobbies (53 per cent), and being entertained online (43 per cent). Nearly a quarter of people (23 per cent) felt less motivated, while a small proportion (14 per cent) felt super-motivated.
The most commonly mentioned achievements during the MCO were new skills (44 per cent), better relationships (38 per cent) and personal growth (35 per cent).
However, different demographics were affected in different ways. For example, more women (40 per cent) felt stressed about their family relationships than men (35 per cent). Women were also more likely (38 per cent) than men (26 per cent) to feel that childcare duties were not equal, with similar ratios for housework. Interestingly women felt more connected to the rest of humanity (32 per cent) compared to men (26 per cent).
Younger age groups were impacted by the MCO in different ways to the general population. For example, nearly half of all 18- to 24-year-olds felt stressed during the MCO, much higher than most other age groups.
Additionally, one in four (1 in 4) Malaysians under 24 years of age indicated that the MCO had a detrimental effect on their friendships, which was a slightly higher number than the older demographic.
Benson noted that people working in education and the arts as well as those living in PPR flats and low-cost housing found it harder to pay for rent or mortgage than others.
He said, “There was a wide variety of lessons learnt during the MCO as Malaysians took the time to reflect on themselves and on humanity. These ranged from their relationships with religion, the need to be more prepared for unexpected events, gratitude for what they had, the importance of health, value of community spirit and the fragility of humanity.”
Getting respondents for any survey is never an easy task but the friendly, casual tone of ‘You ok or not during MCO?’ certainly helped. Using illustrations by beloved Malaysian cartoonist Lat contributed local flavour too.
Every survey ought to relate to the target audience intimately and this is perhaps the greatest success of ‘You ok or not during MCO?’
“We felt that Malaysians suffer from survey fatigue, so we came up with an approach that was fun but didn’t compromise the integrity of survey techniques. The questions were asked in a humorous manner and with a smattering of Manglish and colloquialisms that only Malaysians would understand. We were also fortunate that Lat gave us consent to use his comics.”
Furthermore, participants were able to preview the latest results after completing the survey. One result that wouldn’t have surprised anyone: the thing Malaysians missed most during the MCO was to lepak – from eating out (71 per cent) to going to a shopping mall (44 per cent) and recreation in parks (34 per cent).
Benson acknowledged that since the survey was conducted online, some biases were unavoidable. He said, “We have a good cross-section of age, gender and ethnicity, so we can be reasonably confident that the results are representative at least of ‘middle Malaysia’.”
No man is an island and the man who created the survey was as affected by the lockdown as the rest of us.
Benson shared, “While the public health uncertainty was a concern, my productivity and (to some degree) creativity levels went up. I am reading more and thinking deeper about the issues that affect society today and how that might play out in the future.”
What will the future hold? That’s surely one question on everyone’s mind.