Is Southeast Asia Ready to Set Boundaries at Work?

March 17, 20224:49 pm1072 views
Is Southeast Asia Ready to Set Boundaries at Work?
Photo by tirachardz via Freepik
This article is a guest post.

Even before Covid-19, the lines between our work and private lives were blurring. Now with technology, flexible work, and ever-changing workplaces, setting healthy boundaries at work may be more difficult than ever before. A peek at email while you’re getting the little one out of bed just to make sure a problem hasn’t arisen, reviewing a presentation at nearly midnight around a dimly lit kitchen table, when you’re finally getting to eat that dinner you made hours earlier, while on a webinar, is unfortunately becoming a new reality. If increased flexibility has been a boon for workers in the pandemic era, it has also meant that we’ve had fewer and fewer chances to disconnect. This can be a core problem at companies where ‘always-on’ has become the norm leading to potential burnout.  

We conducted a survey with N=1000 employees in Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam (N=3,000 overall) to get their thoughts on setting boundaries at work and to find out to what extent lines between their work and private are blurring.

Calendar Blocking, Is It Possible?

A structured workday with sufficient time allocated to complete the most important and urgent tasks is vital. Time blocking on your calendar (also known as calendar blocking) is organizing your day into chunks—with time devoted to each task. It’s a way to combat the feeling of ‘Where does all of my time go?’

When asked if employees have the right to block out their calendars to focus on tasks (so meetings aren’t scheduled), 90% of survey respondents in Singapore agreed, followed by 81% in Thailand and 72% in Vietnam. However, when it comes to blocking out their calendars, only 41% in Singapore, 52% in Thailand and half in Vietnam implement the boundary. The top reason for not implementing calendar blocking in all three countries was the desire to be available in case of an urgent matter, followed by a belief that they should be available during all working hours, and in Singapore 43% expressed that it is not common in workplaces.

See also: Boundaries needed in workplace flexibility and variability

Are Notifications Disrupting Productivity?

Today’s typical workplace is characterized by the sight and sound of desktop and smartphone notifications, keeping some in a state of hyper-responsiveness, potentially causing them to have been busy all day, without achieving anything that moves the needle. When asked if employees have the right to switch off all work notifications to focus on tasks, 71% of survey respondents in both Singapore and Thailand said yes, closely followed by 69% in Vietnam.

When asked if they do implement this on a day-to-day, just under two-thirds (63%) in Vietnam manage to – However, a sizeable 73% in Singapore and more than half (53%) in Thailand, do not. Similarly with setting calendar boundaries, the key reasons are to do with wanting to be always available and in case of urgent tasks, even causing 74% in Singapore, 78% in Thailand and 45% in Vietnam to keep their notifications on during meal breaks.

The Rise of No-Meeting Days and Hours

Has this occurred to you? – Your late afternoon meeting scheduled for an hour has crept over the 75-minute mark with no clear end in sight. You know you still have a time-sensitive email to send off, and now you’re going to have to pull out your laptop after dinner. On the outside, you’re polite, participating in discussion and responding thoughtfully. But on the inside, you’re trying not to get annoyed. This person just took a giant step over your time boundaries.

While concise and fruitful meetings can be productive, meetings that are superfluous and time-consuming take away critical hours from deep work. Depending on roles and ability, no-meeting hours or days can allow employees to achieve flow state for optimal and high-yielding time spent working. Of our surveyed respondents, 64% in Singapore said their company does not have such policies – In contrast, majority in Vietnam (81%) share that their company does adopt no-meeting period.

Of those that indicated that they do have designated no-meeting hours or days, 61% in Singapore and 52% in Thailand reported they do usually stick to it but not strictly when it comes to urgent meetings or meetings with durations longer than scheduled. However, in Vietnam 72% said the schedule is strictly adhered to.

Read also: Nurturing Respect through Working Hour Boundaries

Can We Regain Our Sacred Outside Working Hours?

With remote work and the rise of technology, being reachable 24/7 can be encroaching on personal time. Many employees are finding it difficult to switch off after work with the ease of checking emails and notifications interrupting their intended relaxation time.

95% in Singapore, 94% in Thailand and 85% in Vietnam expressed that employees should have the right to switch off their work notifications outside of work. However, only 45% in Singapore, 38% in Thailand and 56% in Vietnam exercise this right, with more than half the respondents in each country checking their work emails or messages 1-3 times after hours. As a result, 50% in Singapore, 58% in Thailand and a shocking 88% in Vietnam agree that they struggle to spend enough time on themselves and loved ones because they are unable to set boundaries at work.

Policies – The Best Way Forward!

Given the difficulties with meetings, notifications, time obligations and outside of hours work, when asked if given the opportunity to implement a policy in the workplace, the most popular policy with 77% in Singapore, and 58% in both Thailand and Vietnam is the right to not reply to work emails and messages outside of work hours. Although most respondents expressed that they do not feel afraid to set boundaries to do their work efficiently, it seems a policy would be welcomed and will assist in maintaining optimal work life balance.

The always-on culture has been in motion for years, and it’s something many countries have been looking to mitigate with ‘right-to-disconnect’ legislation – laws that give workers the ability to step back from their jobs without penalties. But now, the pandemic has left workers especially burnt out – so addressing the problem has never been more critical. With mass vaccination programmes around the world now nudging many of us into a new normal and helping to bring back more options for how we spend our leisure time, our best advice is simply to keep reminding ourselves that creating – and enjoying – boundaries is good for us. How (and what time) you re-charge and rest is very individual; the most important thing is that we get it in one way or another. It’s about allowing yourself to do that. To see that rest and rejuvenation is just as important as being productive.

Read also: The Ivy Lee Productivity Method that Worth $450,000


Author Bio

Sonia Elicia D is an Associate, Director Marketing AT Milieu Insight. Her passion lies in challenging the status quo and growing strong brands on the back of integrated, purpose-driven & highly engaging marketing campaigns. As a part of the Milieu Insight team, she is driving insightful surveys touching various aspects of life. A radical thinker, she is also passionate about telling powerful stories. 

Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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