Understanding Malaysian Work Culture for Newbie Expats

Are you an aspiring overseas Filipino worker who wants to land a job in Malaysia? Understanding Malaysian work culture is essential to ensure a successful and fulfilling career in this Southeast Asian country.

From communication styles to workplace ethics, Malaysians have their unique way of doing things that may differ from what you’re used to in the Philippines. That’s why equipping yourself with knowledge and insights about their work culture is crucial. This guide will explore the fascinating nuances of Malaysian work culture that every aspiring OFW should know. Keep on reading to find out more!

Understanding Malaysian Work Culture

Malaysia is a country with a distinct work culture that sets it apart from other nations. Those who work there will find themselves in a unique environment that offers a plethora of new experiences. The roots of Malaysian work culture can be traced back to the country’s Islamic traditions. As Malaysia is an Islamic country, many practices are influenced by this religion, including dressing modestly and having a two-hour lunch break on Fridays for congregational prayers. In line with this, let’s take a look at the specifics of working in Malaysia and how it differs from other countries.

Work Practices in Malaysia

Malaysia’s cultural diversity reflects not only in its people but also in its work practices. Anyone seeking to work in this Southeast Asian country must be aware of these practices as they can vary significantly from those in other countries.

Working hours

Aspiring Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who are considering a career in Malaysia should familiarize themselves with the country’s labor laws and work culture. Malaysia’s Employment Act sets a standard 48-hour workweek, with a maximum of eight working hours per day and six working days per week. These regulations are in place to ensure workers’ rights are protected, and they apply to all employees, including OFWs.

OFWs working in the industrial or agricultural sectors should be aware that women are not permitted to work between the hours of 10pm and 5am. Normal business hours in Malaysia are from 9 am to 5 pm, Mondays to Fridays. It’s common for many businesses and government agencies to be open until noon on Saturdays, which provides employees with greater flexibility and work-life balance.

OFWs considering working in Malaysia should note these hours, as it will help them prepare and manage their time accordingly.

Youth employment

In Malaysia, workers can be employed full-time from the age of 14, but there are protective regulations in place for adolescents aged between 14 and 16.

It’s important to note that labor laws for young employees in Peninsular Malaysia differ from those in Sabah and Sarawak. Workers under the age of 14 are only allowed to work for a maximum of six hours per day and in non-physical areas of work, ensuring they are not exposed to any dangerous or hazardous work environments.

OFWs should also be aware of the types of work that are restricted for foreign workers in Malaysia. The government of Malaysia has identified several industries and sectors reserved for Malaysians only. These industries include retail and wholesale trades, transportation, agriculture, and construction.

Moreover, foreign workers must also obtain valid work permits and visas before starting work in Malaysia. A Malaysian company or employer must sponsor them, and the employer must ensure that the worker has proper accommodation and health insurance. Work permits for foreign workers in Malaysia are typically issued for two years and can be renewed if necessary.


Malaysia’s diverse society and respect for religious freedom have resulted in a unique holiday structure accommodating the country’s various faiths.

Malaysian labor laws stipulate that all employees are entitled to a minimum of ten days of paid holidays per year. However, this can vary depending on the employer’s policy and the employee’s length of service. In Malaysia, the many religions present in society, including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity, have resulted in an inclusive holiday policy that allows employees to observe their respective religious holidays.

OFWs working in Malaysia can expect to have the opportunity to celebrate their religious holidays as well as those of their colleagues. As a result, the work culture in Malaysia fosters respect and tolerance for different religious beliefs and practices. This environment creates an inclusive atmosphere that supports employees in maintaining a healthy work-life balance while still observing their religious traditions.

In Malaysia, religious holidays are observed as public holidays, meaning employees are entitled to a paid day off work. This is an excellent opportunity for OFWs to explore and immerse themselves in the country’s culture and traditions. By participating in the celebrations, they can build positive relationships with their colleagues and gain a deeper understanding of Malaysia’s diverse society.

Employment in Malaysia

Malaysia’s workforce comprises over 16 million people, making up around 50% of the country’s population. This means there are plenty of job opportunities available for OFWs, provided they have the necessary qualifications and experience.

However, it’s worth noting that Malaysia’s unemployment rate rose to 4.8% in 2021, mainly due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This makes it all the more crucial for OFWs to thoroughly understand the Malaysian work culture to ensure they stand out from the competition and are better equipped to navigate the job market successfully.

To work in Malaysia, OFWs will require a valid work visa. This visa can be obtained through the Malaysian Embassy or Consulate in the Philippines or via the Malaysian Immigration Department. The requirements for obtaining a work visa may vary depending on the job position and the company employing the OFW.

Understanding Malaysian work culture is essential for OFWs as it can affect their job satisfaction, success, and overall well-being in the country. The work culture in Malaysia is heavily influenced by Islamic traditions and emphasizes respect for hierarchy, harmony, punctuality, communication, and community. OFWs must adapt to these cultural nuances to succeed in their jobs and build positive relationships with colleagues and clients.

Moreover, OFWs should know that Malaysian work culture highly values family and social responsibilities. Employees may need to take time off to attend family events or fulfill community obligations. This flexibility may require adjustments for OFWs used to a more rigid work culture.

Differences in Malaysia’s Work Culture

Malaysia boasts a unique work culture that sets it apart from other countries, and it’s essential for those seeking employment in Malaysia to understand and adapt to its cultural nuances.


In Malaysia, employee breaks typically range from 15 to 30 minutes, which may seem shorter than those in some other countries. However, some companies in Malaysia may allow their employees to have a second break in the afternoon to help break up the day and increase productivity. For OFWs used to longer breaks, it may take some time to adjust to the shorter break times in Malaysia.

On the other hand, in countries like Italy and Greece, it’s common to have longer break durations, typically ranging from 60 to 90 minutes. The idea behind this is that longer breaks help employees to recharge and refresh their minds, ultimately leading to increased productivity levels.

To adapt to shorter breaks in Malaysia, OFWs can use their break time effectively. Having a quick snack or drink, stretching, and walking to get some fresh air is a good idea. This can help OFWs to clear their minds and improve their focus when they return to work. If the company permits a second break in the afternoon, OFWs can use this time to socialize with their colleagues, build relationships, and take a mental break.

Attending to Work Matters Outside Working Hours

In Malaysia, it’s common for employees to receive work-related messages and emails outside of their normal working hours, including weekends and public holidays. As a result, many employees feel pressured to respond immediately, even if it means sacrificing their personal time.

Understanding Malaysian Work Culture

To prevent overwork and burnout, some countries have introduced laws that protect employees from responding to work-related messages outside of their working hours. However, there are currently no such laws in Malaysia, which means it’s up to employees to set their own boundaries and manage their workload effectively.

If you’re an OFW working in Malaysia, it’s important to establish clear communication boundaries with your colleagues and employers to avoid feeling overwhelmed or overworked. Here are some practical tips to help you manage your work-life balance effectively:

  1. Set expectations: Be clear about your working hours and when you’ll be available to respond to messages and emails. You can also discuss with your employer if there are specific circumstances when you can be contacted outside of your working hours.
  2. Prioritize tasks: Determine which tasks are the most urgent and require immediate attention. This will help you manage your workload and avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  3. Disconnect: When you’re off work, disconnect from your work-related messages and emails to focus on your personal time. Use the “Do Not Disturb” function on your phone or log out of your work email account to avoid distraction.
  4. Seek support: Talk to your colleagues or supervisor if you feel overwhelmed or struggle to manage your workload effectively. They may be able to offer support or suggest strategies to help you manage your workload.

By setting clear boundaries, prioritizing tasks, disconnecting from work-related messages and emails during your personal time, and seeking support when needed, you can manage your workload effectively and maintain a healthy work-life balance, even in a culture where it’s common to receive work-related messages outside of your working hours.

Parental Leave

In Malaysia, the government has implemented policies that prioritize the well-being of mothers and their newborns by providing them with a generous 60-day maternity leave. However, fathers are not entitled to paternity leave, as no laws enforce it. This can be a challenge for fathers who want to be present during the first few weeks of their child’s life, and it may require some flexibility from their employers.

For expecting mothers who are OFWs in Malaysia, planning their maternity leave ahead of time is essential. They can start by researching their company’s policies on maternity leave and consulting with HR or their supervisors to ensure they have all the necessary information. It’s also essential to prepare for their absence by training their colleagues or hiring temporary staff to take over their duties during their leave.

Understanding Malaysian Work Culture

On the other hand, fathers who wish to take time off after their child is born may need to negotiate with their employers for a flexible work schedule or unpaid leave. Communicating openly with their supervisors about their plans and ensuring their work responsibilities are covered during their absence is crucial.

In other parts of the world, maternity leave lengths vary greatly, with some countries offering as little as four weeks and others providing up to one year. For OFWs planning to start a family in Malaysia, it’s essential to research the maternity leave policies of their home country, as they may have more generous leave options.

In countries like Hungary, paternity leave is available to fathers, which can help them support their partners during the early weeks of their child’s life. OFWs from Hungary or other countries that offer paternity leave may find adjusting to Malaysia’s work culture challenging, which does not provide this benefit. They may need to negotiate with their employers or explore other options to support their partners and care for their newborns.

Problems Often Faced in a Malaysian Workplace

While no workplace is perfect, it’s important to acknowledge that some common challenges may arise while working in a Malaysian workplace. By being aware of these issues, OFWs can proactively address them and create a more positive work environment.

Passive-aggressive behavior

One of the key factors for a successful work environment is open communication and collaboration. However, passive-aggressive behavior can hinder progress and create tension in the workplace. This behavior can manifest through blaming colleagues, failing to fulfill promises, or even sabotaging the efforts of others.

It’s important to understand that this behavior may stem from jealousy, a desire for self-preservation, and cultural factors that discourage direct confrontation. Employees can create a positive and supportive work environment by being aware of these tendencies and working towards a culture of transparency and respect. Encouraging open communication, setting clear expectations, and addressing conflicts promptly and constructively can help prevent passive-aggressive behavior from disrupting the workplace.

In essence, creating an inclusive and collaborative workplace culture that values open communication and fosters mutual respect is crucial. By doing so, employees can work together effectively and overcome obstacles that may hinder their productivity and success.


Malaysian workers are known for their exceptional dedication and strong work ethic, often putting in extra hours beyond their contracted hours. In fact, they rank 1st amongst 50 cities for the longest hours worked and 4th for the most overworked city in the Asia-Pacific region.

This impressive display of commitment and determination highlights Malaysian workers’ strong sense of responsibility towards their jobs and employers. It’s a testament to the country’s vibrant and dynamic work culture, where hard work is valued and rewarded.

Employers who hire Malaysian workers can be assured that they are getting a team of dedicated, hardworking individuals committed to achieving their goals and driving their businesses forward.

Inability to leave the workplace on time

While most employers understand that their employees have lives outside of work and need to leave at the end of their scheduled shift, some may become offended if their employees leave before they do, even if they have completed their daily work hours.

However, employers need to recognize the value of their employees’ time outside of work and to respect their schedules and personal commitments. By fostering a positive and supportive work culture, employers can encourage employees to be more productive and dedicated to their work while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Unrealistic targets

Setting and achieving targets is essential for every company, but it’s important to set realistic goals that employees can work towards. Unfortunately, some employers may set unrealistic targets, which can create unnecessary pressure on employees and result in a heavier workload.

To maintain a positive work culture, employers can strive to set achievable targets that challenge their employees without overwhelming them. This can be done by involving employees in goal-setting and considering their input and feedback. Employers can also encourage open communication and provide support and resources to help employees meet their targets.

On the other hand, employees can also manage their workload by setting their own goals and prioritizing their tasks. By being proactive and communicative with their supervisors, employees can work towards achieving their targets while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Video: Etiquettes Malaysians want you to know! • No finger pointing, shoes in house, sharp presents, etc.

The video explores the unique etiquettes and customs that are prevalent in Malaysia, which have developed due to the diverse races and cultures in the country. The host explains that Malaysians have many unusual customs that may be unfamiliar to outsiders but are an essential part of the country’s cultural fabric.

By highlighting these customs, the video aims to increase awareness and understanding of Malaysian culture, and provide viewers with a glimpse of the unique etiquettes that Malaysians adhere to daily. Whether viewers are locals or foreigners, the video provides an opportunity to learn more about Malaysian customs and taboos, and to appreciate the rich diversity that makes the country so unique.

Tips to succeed as an OFW in Malaysia

Be open-minded and adaptable: As an OFW in Malaysia, you will be exposed to a new culture, language, and way of life. Being open-minded and adaptable can help you adjust to these changes more easily and build positive relationships with your colleagues.

Learn the language: While English is widely spoken in Malaysia, it is also beneficial to learn basic phrases in Bahasa Malaysia or other local languages. This can help you communicate better with your colleagues and clients, and make your work experience more enjoyable.

Respect cultural norms: Malaysians value respect, hierarchy, and politeness. It’s essential to understand and respect the cultural norms and practices of the Malaysian workplace, such as dressing modestly, removing shoes before entering certain premises, and addressing people by their titles.

Build your network: Networking is important in Malaysia, as it can help you learn more about the industry and job opportunities. Attend industry events, connect with professionals in your field, and build strong relationships with your colleagues to create opportunities for career growth.

Keep a positive attitude: Challenges and difficulties are part of any job, but maintaining a positive attitude can help you stay motivated and resilient. Celebrate your successes, learn from your mistakes, and stay focused on your goals to achieve success as an OFW in Malaysia.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the typical work schedule in Malaysia?

The typical work schedule in Malaysia is Monday to Friday, with a standard workday of 8 hours per day. Some companies may also require employees to work on Saturdays or have flexible working hours.

2. What is the dress code in Malaysian workplaces?

The dress code in Malaysian workplaces varies depending on the industry and company. However, it is generally advised to dress conservatively and avoid revealing clothing. In Muslim-majority workplaces, modest clothing is expected, and women may be required to wear a headscarf.

3. Is it common to work overtime in Malaysia?

Overtime is common in Malaysian work culture, especially in industries such as manufacturing and hospitality. However, it is subject to regulations and employees should be compensated for their overtime work.

4. How do Malaysians handle conflicts in the workplace?

Malaysians typically avoid direct confrontation and prefer to resolve conflicts through negotiation and compromise. Respect for authority and hierarchy is also an important cultural value that can affect conflict resolution.

5. Are lunch breaks provided in Malaysian workplaces?

Yes, lunch breaks are typically provided in Malaysian workplaces. However, the length of the break may vary depending on the company policy and industry.

6. What is the attitude towards punctuality in Malaysia?

Punctuality is generally expected in Malaysian workplaces. However, there may be cultural variations depending on the industry and company.

7. Is networking important in Malaysian workplaces?

Yes, networking is an important aspect of Malaysian workplaces. Building relationships and social connections can help advance one’s career and opportunities for growth.

8. What are some common business etiquette practices in Malaysia?

Some common business etiquette practices in Malaysia include using formal titles and greetings, offering a small gift as a goodwill gesture, and avoiding confrontational behavior or direct criticism. It is also customary to remove shoes before entering homes or certain business premises.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, having a good understanding of Malaysian work culture is vital for Filipino workers who are planning to work in Malaysia. By familiarizing yourself with the nuances of Malaysian work culture, you can better adapt to your new work environment, build stronger relationships with your colleagues, and increase your chances of success in your career.

With the information and insights provided in this guide, we hope you will be better equipped to navigate the complexities of Malaysian work culture and make the most of your experience as an OFW in Malaysia. So, keep reading and discover the many facets of this fascinating culture!

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