Written and submitted by Natasha Christopher.
The quest to fulfill a healthy lifestyle with a work-life and social life balance is an uphill battle for some of us, especially when it comes to the working hours in the office where we may take extra time to complete a certain task. Before you know it, it’s already midnight and you’re still in the office. This could happen every day and you find yourself working on the weekend too with no “me-time” to spare.
If this is you on a daily basis, topped off with the feeling of constant stress which in turn, makes you feel helpless, disillusioned, and completely exhausted, you may be on the road to burnout.
Recently, the World Health Organization(WHO)’s handbook recognises — for the first time ever — that burnout is now a legitimate medical diagnosis as per the International Classification of Diseases, which is used as a benchmark for diagnosis and health insurers.
To help you look at this issue through real-life stories, Japan has perhaps one of the highest rates of burnout cases, which result in a number of deaths.
Japan’s work culture is so intense, people in the 1970s invented the word “Karoshi” which translates to “death by overwork”. Employees would commit suicide or would suffer from a heart attack or stroke due to the number of hours they pulled in the office.
One Karoshi death was so intense that it showed the late former employee reportedly logging in 159 hours of overtime in one month!
But, when it comes to Malaysians, we are not strangers to the burnout phase too.
According to AIA’s Vitality 2018 survey, it revealed that 54.4% of Malaysian employees get less than seven hours of sleep per night, with 11% stating that they have poor quality of sleep.
Meanwhile, 32% of employees are reported to have at least one chronic disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease. According to another survey conducted in 2018 by Monster Malaysia, 58% of employees in Malaysia are unable to work from home, while another 36% are confined to strict working arrangements without any flexible alternatives.
This begs the question, what can we do to prevent a possible burnout in the future?
There a few countries that have done what they can to prevent burnout situations. Let’s take for example, in Germany, labour minister Ursula von der Leyen began a campaign to raise awareness and estimated that worker stress costs German businesses 8 to 10 billion euros.
The Netherlands, by the way, is perhaps one of the third best countries for work life. The Dutch highly prioritise “gezin” which ensures a good family culture and a good work-life balance. Besides, the average working hours in the Netherlands are between 36 and 40 hours a week, as opposed to Malaysia’s 48 hours a week.
However, not all companies in Malaysia are all about OTs and the ‘the longer you stay in the office, the more hardworking you are’ kind of mentality. Mad Hat Asia is a boutique public relations agency which is made up of fresh, charismatic, entrepreneurial hatters. They’ve worked with big companies such as Heineken, Mondelez Malaysia (Cadbury Dairy), Red Bull, It’s The Ship, and many other notable brands or talents.
So what makes Mad Hat Asia different from all the other companies? According to the founder of Mad Hat Asia, Rengeeta Rendava and General Manager, Angeline Chandran, when they started this PR agency, their main aim was to always prioritise a healthy work-life balance for its employees.
In this exclusive interview with Rengeeta and Angeline, they mentioned that they wanted more people to be aware of this issue, and shine a more positive light on this prospect. Ultimately, they just wanted to get the ball rolling.
Both of them were previously working in a high-demand job environment, to the point where it requires them to sacrifice their time outside of work hours too. When they set up Mad Hat Asia, they spent a lot of effort with the team to ensure that everyone had a good working environment.
“I believe it’s a fit between the company and yourself. For example, if the company doesn’t go hand-in-hand with your values or priorities, then there’s an imbalance,” said Rengeeta.
Having experienced burnout in the past, Rengeeta felt that there wasn’t an outlet for her to share and so she bottled up her feelings and stress.
However, in Mad Hat, to tackle this issue, they have created an outlet for the team to openly voice out their concerns, work, etc. This way, the open communication that they practice is key to helping one another as a team/family and in turn, encourage close bonds.
One of the ways Mad Hat Asia maintains the work-life balance with its team is through weekly (or alternate) activities, such as Mad Hat Workout Wednesdays where they do exercises like HIIT and cardio, ‘Selasa Tak Selesa’ Group Hiking in Bukit Gasing and Tapau Thursdays where for one hour everyone shuts their phone and bonds with one another over lunch.
They are even introducing Mandarin classes too. However, these activities are optional and not mandatory for all Hatters.
“You’ve got to be aware of what is important to you when you’re employed. Some people love to work and don’t feel the stresses of work-life balance, and that’s fine too. But, if your mental health is important to you then you need to invest in that. When you are happy, ultimately your good work performance shows. We need to be aware of which stage work stops and when life begins,” said Angeline Chandran.
They also give the team the working culture that they want to have, provided with good consistent work performance. They have the option of working from home, blast the music in the office to de-stress and sit anywhere they want. It’s very much like a house instead of an office environment.
The freedom of expression and positivity are what founders Angeline and Rengeeta are trying to cultivate in Mad Hat Asia. At the end of the day, it’s all about maximizing your working hours then after, enjoying your life.
“It’s all about taking control of your life. If you need help, get or ask for help.”
When asked for a piece of advice on how to ensure you don’t fall to the burnout stage, they both agreed that it’s okay to just hit the pause button for a while and make a significant change to your life. Declutter your life or perhaps change your working style. Lastly, communication is key.