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Tips for your new working life

With a fast-growing economy and reputation for welcoming expatriates in the workplace, Malaysia ranks 15th out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2019.

Business Culture

Malaysia is an ethnically diverse country, and this is reflected in the workplace. You should expect to be conducting business with Malay, Chinese, and Indian colleagues and you may need to adjust your way of working a little depending on who you are interacting with. With such a mixture of different nationalities working alongside each other, doing business in Malaysia can be a very enriching and rewarding experience.  

With its fast-paced business lifestyle and emerging economy, Malaysia can be an attractive prospect for expatriates looking to work and live abroad. You can also expect a warm welcome — such a mixing-pot of cultures and lifestyles fosters respect of and tolerance for other people’s values.  

Women occupy equal footing in the workplace. Although throughout the business world veiled discrimination does occur, women can expect to be treated more equally in Malaysia than many other Asian countries, particularly in the high-income bracket, and employees’ rights are growing as immigration has increased and the economy has bloomed.


While Malaysia’s official language of business is Bahasa Malaysia, English is widely spoken and often used in the workplace, particularly in larger cities such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Bahasa Malaysia is written in both Latin and Arabic script, and other languages spoken may include Cantonese, Mandarin, and Tamil.

Working Hours

Standard working hours in Malaysia are 9 am – 5 pm, Monday – Friday. However, depending on your job type and location, this may vary, as in some cities Friday is observed as the Islamic holy day, with the weekend taking place on Thursday and Friday.

Clothing and Greetings

Western style business clothes are the norm in Malaysia, such as smart suits and jackets. Women may want to consider dressing more conservatively than they would at home, as there is a large Muslim population in Malaysia.

While a handshake is the standard greeting, be aware that some women may not wish to make physical contact with a man in public, so always wait for a woman to instigate it, or simply nod. Also be prepared for the people you are greeting to avoid direct eye contact as a sign of respect.

If you are in mixed company, you will introduce a female colleague before her male counterpart.

Hierarchy and ‘losing face'

There is a hierarchical structure in business in Malaysia, with emphasis on respect and deference for authority figures. However, there is a more inclusive culture than in some Western business environments, with senior members of staff taking an interest in their employees. This is in line with the importance placed on communal goals, rather than individual glory, and the value of teamwork within a company.  

Employees are expected to be motivated for the overall good and productivity of the team, and out of the sense of duty their role demands, rather than the potential for personal gain or the incentive of a promotion. Laziness is not tolerated, and you must be flexible.

‘Losing face’ or embarrassing or ‘calling out’ a colleague is considered malicious, so be considerate and respect the code of honour within the company. This will apply even between a senior member to a subordinate. In line with this ethos of diplomacy and sensitivity prominent within the business world in Malaysia, any disagreements should always be dealt with privately and with dignity.  


While you should expect meetings to commence punctually in Malaysia, don't be surprised if some time is taken up with personal talk or digressions — this is an important facet of business culture where relationships are considered vital.

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