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Business and Workplace Culture

Malaysia - Business and Workplace Culture

Malaysia has a fast-paced lifestyle and with emerging infrastructure, a highly qualified workforce and an emerging economy, the country has a certain culture towards business and working life. As an expat, you’ll quickly adapt and the more furnished you are with information the easier you’ll find the process of adapting.

The Business Language

In major cities such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang, English is considered the language of business as most business is conducted in English. The major cities and surrounding districts have an increase in international business and as English is the global business language, Malaysia is no different. If Malay (Malaysia’s native language) is not proving easy to learn, then you will be able to communicate. English is widely used as a second language.

The Work Culture

As with any country, there is a working culture and this is strictly regulated by the Department of Employment. Employers have to adhere to strict laws to ensure their employees are taken care of. The workplace culture is very fast-paced as Malaysia begins to develop as an international business centre. Malaysia is a multi-cultural country and the working culture is highly mixed with many different nationalities working alongside each other. Malaysian people are highly polite and a lazy western attitude is not considered to be accepable. It’s essential that all expats are respectful of their adopted country’s workplace policies.

The Number of Women in the Workforce

Women are increasing in the workforce as Malaysia begins to emerge as a growing economy in Asia. Compared to other Asian countries, Malaysia lags behind in the percentage stakes in terms of employing women. However, these percentages are increasing as education has now become a revolution in the country. It’s still harder for a woman to get her foot in the door; however, that’s not to say that doors are locked. Entrenched traditional views of women being at home looking after the family are slowly dispersing and women are welcomed into banking and finance, along with healthcare services and educational services.

There is a veiled degree of sexism but demographically, Malaysia is a young country and the issue of sexism is not prevalent in the districts of the major cities. Expat women who have been educated elsewhere and depending on their visa status have just as much chance as a man at succeeding in a high income bracket job.

The expat women who are in Malaysia on their husband’s visa may not be able to work at all. With an increasing number of multi-national companies to aim for there is nothing to prevent a woman from succeeding in employment in Malaysia.

Anti-Discrimination Policies in the Workplace

This is a knotty topic, particularly as there is still some degree of discrimination in the workplace mainly towards women. While there is less discrimination in the high income bracket, there is still some discrimination felt in the industrial sector. With only eight per cent of women in Parliament in Malaysia, the women of Malaysia find it hard to avoid discrimination in the industrialized sector. While there has been a government national women’s policy drawn up there is still some discrimination but slowly there is movement with an increase in education throughout the country. Discrimination is not so prevalent towards disabled people due to lobbying by rights’ groups and anti-discrimination legislation made and enforced by the government.

Industrial Relations and the Prevalence of Strike Action

It is often thought that Malaysians don’t speak up for themselves when it comes to being walked all over in the workplace. This is a myth, yet with only around a tenth of the workforce members of a union which is trade related, strike action is rare. Employers are now largely regulated and are not allowed to take advantage of their employees. Employee’s rights are growing and with the immigration rates increasing, western legislation is having an impact and Malaysia is learning from their neighbours such as Singapore and Hong Kong.

As education has made a revolution within Malaysia and many of its younger residents are leaving the country to attend overseas universities, and then returning to the country, influences are growing and more positive attitudes are permeating their way into companies. Malaysia is making a stand and has, over the last decade, improved relationships between employers and employees. The gap is closing and employment contracts are legal and binding. This protects both the employee and the employer. Malaysia also welcomes immigrants warmly from western countries and learning from these cultures has greatly improved working environments.

Expat Health Insurance Partners

Bupa Global

At Bupa we have been helping individuals and families live longer, healthier, happier lives for over 60 years. We are trusted by expats in 190 different countries and have links with healthcare organisations throughout the world. So whether you're moving abroad for a change of career or a change of scene, with our international private health insurance you will always be in safe hands.


Cigna has worked in international health insurance for more than 30 years. Today, Cigna has over 71 million customer relationships around the world. Looking after them is an international workforce of 31,000 people, plus a network of over 1 million hospitals, physicians, clinics and health and wellness specialists worldwide, meaning you have easy access to treatment.