KL is the 4th most overworked city among 50 countries

Malaysia may be known for its lepak culture. But an ongoing setback that many of us may be familiar with are long working hours and buzzing work-related chat rooms, even on the weekends. 

This was recently highlighted in a study by Kisi on work-life-balance in 2020, where KL ranked 4th for most overworked city among 50 cities. It was determined by some less-than-stellar rankings KL placed in, including 1st for longest hours worked and hours spent commuting , and last among other cities when it came to easy access to mental health care

Work-life-balance for overworked KL-ites 

Kisi’s 2020 Work-Life-Balance report cities in Europe, such as Oslo and Berlin, taking top spots for best work-life-balance out of 50 cities. In comparison, cities said to be overworked are mainly located in Asia, with Kuala Lumpur placing 4th for most overworked city, not too far behind from our neighbours Singapore, which is ranked 2nd, and just one step ahead of Tokyo, ranked 5th on the list. 

KL also ranked 4th in Top Overworked Cities by Kisi back in 2019 as well, so it seems like we’re not making much progress here.

KL Overworked City - top 5 overworked cities
Image adapted from:
Get Kisi

This list was evaluated based on 19 key-factors in 4 categories: 

  1. Work-intensity, such as hours worked and overworked population
  2. Society & Institutions, such as access to mental healthcare and inclusivity
  3. City livability, such as affordability and happiness, culture and leisure 
  4. COVID-19, including its impact on employment and projected unemployment

KL takes top spot for hours spent working and time commuting

KL Overworked City - working
Image credit:

Based on these factors, KL ranked 1st when it comes to most hours spent working and commuting, followed by Singapore and Bangkok in 2nd and 3rd places respectively.

The average hours for a full-time employee is said to be 35 hours or more. But a report from Jobstreet in 2017 suggested that Malaysians worked an average of 12 hours more, beyond their designated work hours. A recent study from AIA in 2019 also concluded that this skewed work-life-balance led to 51% of Malaysians suffering from work-related stress, while 53% of them get less than 7 hours of sleep a night.

This sees KL ranked 4th in overworked population, just behind Hong Kong, Singapore, and Seoul. Minimum vacation days for employees in KL is a low 8 paid leave days as well, just slightly higher than Bangkok, which has 6 paid leave days, and Singapore and Hong Kong (both 7).

But that number is significantly lower than in London, where employees are allotted 28 paid off days per year.

KL Overworked City - effects of overworking
Malaysian employees show signs of work-related stress and the effects on their lives
Image adapted from: AIA

The time spent at work often doesn’t account for travel, but it makes up a huge part of it, with many living in and outside of KL ready to tell you about the traffic they get stuck in before and after work. Kisi reports that those working in KL spend the most time commuting than employees of other cities.

To put this into perspective, a study on traffic data in KL by TomTom, a website that pulls together traffic data from over 400 countries to rank their congestion rates, shows that Malaysians lose 170 hours a year being stuck in traffic jams in KL. This is equivalent to time spent watching 97 football matches or planting 170 trees. KL also ranked 46 out of 416 cities in 2019 with the highest levels of traffic congestion by TomTom, with cities in India and Philippines taking top spots. 

KL Overworked City - KL traffic
Image credit: @hashen.perera87

Access to mental healthcare

Another factor that accounted for KL-ites’ low ranking for best work-life balance is accessibility to mental healthcare. Kisi defines this as “accessibility and effectiveness” of public healthcare being provided to employees for mental health illnesses.

KL comes in the least desirable with 15.9 points, which is significantly lower than the following 2 cities that fell behind on the list as well, with Budapest at 53 points and Bangkok at 60.8. Oslo, on the other hand, took the top sweet spot with a 100 out of a 100 points for accessibility to mental healthcare.

KL also ranked lowest for healthcare, at 47.1 points. But it should be noted that Kisi did not include COVID-19 response to evaluate each cities’ healthcare score, as they determined that the scale of the pandemic does not reflect the quality or access to healthcare. When it comes to inclusivity and tolerance, which is a factor of the “Society and Institutions” category measured by tolerance towards gender equality and LGBT+ equality, KL scored the lowest as well.

Other factors that also affect KL’s ranking as overworked city

City liveability – made up of factors such as Happiness, Culture and Leisure, Outdoor Spaces, and Air Quality – were also taken into account to determine which cities had the best or worst work-life balance. KL had the least points for the first 2 factors compared to the 49 other cities, with concerns about safety, city-related stress such as economy and population density, and lack of accessibility and proximity to green outdoor spaces lowering our scores.

KL Overworked City - KL outdoor spaces
Image credit: @ckl.pixel

While air pollution significantly dropped during the MCO, air quality isn’t KL’s strong suit either. KL ranked the 4th highest in pollution levels after cities such as Hong Kong and Seoul, presumably because of how often we spent commuting, with motor vehicles the most popular mode of transportation among Malaysians. 

Silver lining for KL

There are some silver linings for KL, as the Kisi report indicated that KL had the lowest percentage of people working multiple jobs. This means that most of us aren’t relying on more than one job at a time to support ourselves. The projected unemployment rates due to the COVID-19 pandemic for KL came in low as well, with KL ranking 5th behind Bangkok, Singapore, Tokyo and Zurich.

KL also ranked 13th when it came to COVID-19’s impact for an impressive score of 82.1. Oslo once again scored a perfect 100, while New York, which was one of the US cities first struck by COVID-19, scored the lowest points at 35 points. 

KL ranks high for most overworked city

Even before the MCO had many of us working from home, the words “work-life balance” would’ve struck a chord with anyone who has a job and bills to pay. This is why this study showing KL ranking 4th for most overworked city has no doubt been an eye-opening one. It serves as a reminder to us all to continue to evaluate what these words mean to us so we can sort out an efficient way to do well at work while keeping healthy too.  

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Cover image adapted from: @saerahadly & @hashen.perera87

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