One in six Malaysians stressed out by work – Rose Ismail, New Straits Times.

New Straits Times. | KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 18 2004: Feeling tired, listless and dreading work? You are not alone. One in six working Malaysians in a nationwide poll says he is stressed out by work and, for almost as many, this is compounded by money problems. The poll, on how Malaysians balance work and life issues, also reveals that respondents in government service are least stressed and those at the other end of the scale are workers in sales and retail. Apart from work and money, other major causes of stress are health, children, parents and family. Interestingly, even though work is the biggest stress factor, employers and bosses only affect a small number of working Malaysians (five per cent).

This could be read in two ways: that people are generally uncomfortable talking about personal matters or, that stress is caused by several factors and not just work. To relieve stress, most Malaysians claim they try to relax or think positive thoughts. A substantial number seek comfort in family members. Women, especially, turn to friends, colleagues and bosses. Outside of the work environment, family outings are seen as stress-relievers for some people but only a small number (five per cent) see holidays as the answer to reduce stress. A probably explanation for this is that the poll, in reflecting the national census, has a wider band of respondents from the lower middle and working classes. For such groups, work is stoically accepted as the only way to make ends meet. More than 600 people were interviewed in the poll conducted by Merdeka Center, a social research organisation sponsored by the Friedrich Nauman Foundation.

Findings indicate that women are better able to ignore stress and that a small number of respondents deal with pressures by keeping to themselves or acquiring a “couldn’t-care- less” attitude. Prayers console some 12 per cent who are stressed out. As expected, sports is more a stress-reducer for men than women but the number of men who do turn to such activities (10 per cent) is surprisingly small. Unlike our Western counterparts, only one male respondent has turned to counselling to sort out his stress-related problems. Women are either reluctant to talk about it or do not see therapy as an option. Malaysians prefer more money to leisure Money, more than leisure time, will assure Malaysians a better quality of life.

Across almost all age groups and job sectors, this finding stands out prominently in a nationwide poll conducted last week. The emphasis given to money may explain why one in five people, as reported in today’s New Straits Times, has taken on additional work to supplement the family income. It could also be linked to the fact that one in 10 people consider his income inadequate and one in three say his wages are not enough to make ends meet. Yet, despite the preoccupation with money, all those interviewed said they were satisfied with what little free time they had for themselves and their families. Surprisingly, the quest for more money also crosses the retirement line with those above 55 indicating that money was more important than leisure time.

But, intriguingly, this trend is bucked by those between the ages of 50 and 55, people who are presumably tired of work and getting ready for retirement. Workers in the production, transport and labour sectors polled highest (64 per cent) in wanting money more than time but those in the professional, technical and managerial fields appeared slightly ambivalent about this. Although they noted the importance of money, a fair number wanted more time to enjoy the fruits of their labour. Only teachers and lecturers valued time more than money, polling 51 per cent for time and 46 per cent for money. Coincidentally, teachers, professional and some government workers bring work to be completed at home. The poll of more than 600 people, conducted by Merdeka Center which has been tracking public opinion for three years, also revealed other interesting points about the Malaysian worker: * that most people are generally satisfied with their jobs and the hours spent at work; * that half the respondents work a 40-hour week and the other half, between 40 and 60 hours a week.

Yet, there appears to be a high level of job satisfaction among those who work long hours; * that most people find their working environment comfortable; * that two-thirds prefer staying in their jobs as opposed to job-hopping as a means to secure better pay; * that a large majority take pride in the work they do. A further breakdown of the findings also indicates that Malays are least likely to change jobs because they value permanency; the Chinese are more likely to change jobs in search of more pay; the better-educated are more confident about looking for jobs and better-paid people stay longer in their jobs. Ibrahim Suffian, Merdeka Center programme director said, overall findings show that Malaysians were reasonable, practical, able to cope with changing conditions and generally optimistic about life. “Tough as it may be for some of them, I do hear many say that life outside of Malaysia is more difficult. So, we should just try harder.”

42% of Malaysians worry about the rising cost of living – Rose Ismail, New Straits Times.

New Straits Times. | KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 17 2004: The cost of living has overtaken crime, domestic politics, education and national security as the issue of greatest concern to most Malaysians today. This is in sharp contrast to less than three months ago, when crime topped the list, with the economy trailing far behind. In August, more than 61 per cent of Malaysians were volubly worried about snatch theft and robbery.

A “moral panic” surfaced, with politicians, police, NGOs and groups of citizens looking for ways to curb the high incidence of crime, especially in urban areas. Since then, rising costs have elbowed aside the criminals: 42 per cent of working Malaysians now say this is their most critical concern.

Even the release of former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and the heated debates on money politics in recent weeks made scant impression: only 10 per cent of those polled said domestic politics was the most important issue today. Fewer respondents are affected by troubles in southern Thailand and the recent bombings in Indonesia. Although statistically insignificant, three people said the hate-mail received by singer Siti Nurhaliza was of greater concern. The poll was conducted by Merdeka Centre, a social-research organisation, and sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. Findings will appear only in this newspaper. More than 600 people took part in the random survey, which has a 4.3 per cent margin of error. Ethnicity, gender and state of residence were all taken into strict account to ensure a fair spread of views.

The poll, conducted last weekend amid news of rising costs of petrol, chicken and other items, indicates that Malaysians in the lower-income groups are especially anxious about household and year-end expenses, especially for school-going children. Those in the higher income brackets are more worried about their housing loans. That nearly one in five respondents is engaged in additional work to supplement the family income suggests that many are struggling to stay above water. Ibrahim Suffian, Merdeka Centre programme director, said the results should persuade policy-makers to concentrate on lower-income groups. More than 75 per cent of people earning between RM750 and RM1,500 a month indicated they earned “just enough”.

This “cukup makan” category is likely to suffer first and most when prices of daily items go up. Forty-seven per cent of respondents manage on double incomes, with 41 per cent saying their spouses worked full-time to help make ends meet. Ibrahim said, however, overall findings indicate that Malaysians are “remarkable people”, coping with rising costs by making the necessary adjustments, and many are able to live within their means. But, he added, they may feel the pinch when the cost of food and other daily necessities goes up.

Most Malaysians are happy and calm

New Straits Times | KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 23 2004: Malaysians claim they are healthy, reasonably happy and calm. But far too many are working longer hours, not watching what they eat and turning into couchpotatoes. For more than half of the population, especially working adults, there is no time for exercise. Work takes up a huge portion of their lives and, for a third of Malaysians, leisure is increasingly defined as time in front of the television set. These worrying trends were noted in a nationwide survey carried out by Merdeka Centre for Opinion Research late last year. The poll, supported by Friedrich Naumann Foundation, is the second in a series conducted for the New Straits Times. The first, in November, focused on how Malaysians handled stress and coped with daily pressures.

More than 800 respondents were randomly selected along ethnic, gender and state lines in the second poll which looked at lifestyle and healthcare concerns. Possibly the most intriguing finding was that 70 per cent of Malaysians said they led calm lives. Across ethnic lines, Malays appeared calmest, followed by Indians. However, one in five Chinese said they were stressed. A probable explanation for this is that many Malay respondents were from the rural areas where life in pastoral settings is slower and more gratifying. Most of the Chinese lived in urban areas where the daily pace can be dizzy and hectic. Sociologists say Malays and Indians are generally more willing to count their blessings, whereas the Chinese tend to be more driven and determined about goals and ambitions. Some social observers believe patience plays a huge role in the way Malays cope with adversity. Even if they are unhappy, they persuade themselves to be grateful.

The belief that rewards will come in the next world is a major influence on how Malays view life. The poll shows that people in the lowest income bracket are as likely to report happiness as those with more money, a finding which supports the general theory that money alone does not bring happiness. However, as pointed out by some social observers, the insistence on being happy and calm may be an indication of denial. As most Malays believe it is wrong to be ungrateful, the rate of unacknowledged depression may be higher than assumed, said Prof Norani Othman, of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. But this is not necessarily negative, she added, because the ability to take responsibility for feelings of disaffection could mean that Malaysians would not blame the Government for everything that goes wrong in their lives. Nor would they expect the Government to fix everything immediately. The capacity to postpone joy or to defer gratification means that many Malaysians can live with less. This message was conveyed in the high and consistent level of emotional well-being noted in the survey, said Ibrahim Suffian, of the Merdeka Centre. “For many people, things are under control. There are pressures but none so insurmountable that people are angry or unhappy,” he said. Ibrahim, who has been tracking public opinion on national and current issues for some years now, said the higher level of tolerance may stem from the fact that many respondents were second- generation non-peasants. Such people, he said, tended to be more patient and forgiving. The survey also showed that married people were happier.

The married were also noticeably calmer and more at peace with themselves and the world. Another finding was that happiness tended to increase with age, with those above 55 twice more likely to report feeling happy than those under 30. The Malaysian love affair with food was also measured, with one-third of respondents claiming they watched what they ate all the time. Across ethnic lines, the Chinese seemed more cavalier with only 30 per cent saying they were careful about what they ate. Close to 40 per cent of the community also claimed they were not bothered about weight gain or loss and only six per cent said they gave serious thought to slimming programmes and diet advertisements. The findings underscore the age-old belief that Chinese give top priority to nutrition and have few taboos when it comes to food. As one keen observer and member of the community jokingly said: “We eat anything that moves!” A quarter of Malaysians said they consumed vitamins and supplements all the time and a further 13 per cent said they took it most of the time.

Merdeka Center