The changing environment of employee management in Malaysia and how small businesses can help themselves

SEPTEMBER 26 — Malaysia, with its good physical infrastructure system, export (varied) sector, fin tech, and professional services, is currently aiming towards global competitiveness and employee management. As a result of the changing employee behaviour and management landscape, there is a need for small businesses to develop strategies with which to cope with the current changes and demands with employee management. The ever-increasing burden of litigation by employees against small businesses is a dark cloud that hangs over business operations and rouge management practices. To be proactive; will require a rethink or review of existing people management practices more than ever.

The importance of employee management remains crucial to any organisation and even the nation's economy. Businesses have incurred over RM245 million in wrongful dismissal claims from 2014-2018 which is an alarming rate. The fact that employee management does not remain an impersonal science could necessitate the weaving in of legal threads in areas that are personal to individual employee and situation.

The need to maintain your employees

Because employees — particularly talented ones — are the most valuable asset in any business, the cost of replacing employees could be far higher than expected. There is this downside on your business if or when your top talent leaves to work for your competitors. Even, if unavoidable, it does have a significant impact on the rest of the employees and team dynamics. Resources invested in recruiting and onboarding new employees, does undoubtedly impact operational expenses. The reputation of your company could even be at stake. What is obtained in the best companies today is that managers are evaluated based on their hiring and retention of great talent. As a good manager or business owner then, you should strive to keep your team committed and engaged.

Nevertheless, satisfying your employees should not deter you from informing them, as soon as possible, of any mistakes made, or shortfalls in performance. Offer them listening ears afterwards.

The Employment Act of 1955 governs the Employment law in Malaysia. The Act protects the interests and rights of employees who fall within clearly spelt-out categories. It sets out the minimum benefits or a baseline for all businesses to follow. As small businesses, you can prepare and protect your business in the following simplistic ways:

Show your employees respect

Serving as one of the best and critical ways to keep or maintain your best talent. Treating your employees professionally, and with a sense of dignity, they have no reason not to be productive. This practice is self-perpetuating as it as well engenders respect for you as the manager. When your employees feel disrespected, they might not stay committed for long, even when they love the job and are well paid. They may also go to the extent of seeking revenge in their way with potential constructive dismissal claims.

Praise and recognise them

Generally, employees want to get appreciated for their efforts and positive contributions. Thus, thanking them for a job well done is crucial to their feeling of value, irrespective of the level; this recognition of staff or unit publicly helps build loyalty. However, the praise you offer tot hem should be objective and not manipulative; else, it will backfire. For instance, it could be counterproductive if used to pit one group over the other, either robotically, or given in the same way each time. Put in place shorter and regular appraisals; as we have seen many organisations moving away from annual performance management reviews.

Show them emotional intelligence

Consider being empathetic, friendly, supportive, courteous, and respectful to your employees. The reason behind the emphasis on 'people smarts' by fastest growing companies across the globe is simple: though you can have world's best technical skills, if you tolerate an insensitive, self-centred, or disruptive work culture, then be prepared for a revolving door. This does not imply you have to be fully aware of the personal lives of your employees, giving a sense of empathy will go miles in ensuring the retention of your talent. Be authentic, real, transparent, and honest, they should not expect less from you as well. When challenges or negative news arises, your employees should get the ugly truth instead of cover- ups. Appreciation for your sincerity and potentially wanting to endure situations with you, even if it is not favourable to them.

Be consistent Your employees usually understand what it takes to succeed. When your business or organisational goals are constant and consistent - without surprises - your employees will attain an optimal level of productivity. Otherwise, you might lose their support when the rules get changed that they become confusing or unfair.

The contributions of small businesses to the economy cannot be undermined; however the perils of poor people management practices add to the complexities and threats we face in our businesses. The Employment Act in Malaysia sits in place to protect the interests and rights of employees who fall within clearly spelt-out categories. The good treatment accorded to employees will translate into increased efficiency and productivity and in turn, results in growth, profitability and sustenance. The gentle reminders above on people management will go a long way in helping you protect your small business from potential employment claims. It is our responsibility as entrepreneurs and leaders to recognise the need to develop the capabilities of our people manages to broaden the sources of the growth while also sustaining same.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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