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Flexible working – where are we now in APAC and what does the future hold?

It has now been well over 12 months since the start of the global pandemic and many of us in the region have been in and out of our office environments more times than we can remember - WFH was probably the most used acronym of 2020. In December 2019 there were around 10 million participants in Zoom meetings globally per day. Four months later this had jumped to 300 million.    What it has given us is a lot of time to reflect on what works for us personally - whether we would like working from home (WFH) to be the new normal, or whether we miss the buzz of the office when we’re not there.   Although it has been one of the most written about topics since early last year most articles and blogs are focused on other parts of the world, particularly Europe and the US.    But what are people thinking in Asia Pacific, and are there differences within the region?   Since COVID-19 started to spread across the region, we conducted two surveys focusing on areas in which our working lives have been affected by the pandemic, one in April 2020, and a follow-up survey in March this year. For the latter we had 2,000 professionals fill in the survey - click here to see the breakdown of the respondents, a very similar population to the survey from last year.          What we saw from the survey a year ago is that there are big differences regionally. In mainland China, for example, people flooded back to offices in June last year and very few staff worked from home after that. In Australia however, appetites have been whetted and it looks like flexible work, in general, will be adopted more broadly than it was pre-pandemic. Hong Kong and Singapore on the other hand seem to be in the middle of these two when it comes to adopting more flexible working practices in the future.   From multiple conversations that I’ve had with professionals based in mainland China on this topic over the last few months, I have noticed that certain reasoning comes up again and again as to why WFH hasn’t proved particularly popular in China. Many of the points revolve around productivity, or the lack of it whilst WFH. Lack of space, multi-generational households and poor internet speeds have all been mentioned, and these have come up also in Hong Kong and Singapore as reasons to head back to the office. In Australia, these issues tend to be less of a problem.    From our April 2020 survey the following graph illustrates this point well:      If you have been working from home because of COVID-19, how productive do you feel you’ve been in comparison to if you were working in an office environment?    ​   Another factor is that WFH, and indeed flexible working generally, weren’t as highly adopted in mainland China before COVID-19 broke, with its hard work, ‘996’ (9 AM to 9 PM, six days a week) culture centred around the office, and not at home. Flexible working was on the rise several years before the pandemic in other parts of APAC.   To what extent does trust play a factor in all of this? In our March 2021 survey, we asked respondents, rather cheekily, “To what extent do you feel your co-workers, when working from home as part of your company’s COVID-19 contingency plan, have taken advantage of their flexible arrangement and haven’t fulfilled their responsibilities as expected?” The results were quite revealing and could go part of the way to explain why WFH doesn’t hold too much of a future in China, and to some degree, Hong Kong and Singapore.             With less experience of WFH, pre-COVID, in China this might not be surprising. But what is surprising is the fact that, according to multiple studies including our own data from last year, we are working longer hours when we WFH. In fact, according to one global survey, we are working, on average, 50 more minutes a day. One extensive study in 2014 carried out by Stanford University of call centre workers in China found that staff worked longer shifts and had a 13% increase in performance when they WFH.   Despite this data, the common perception remains that when you work from home you are skiving off. This seems to be particularly prevalent in Asia.   In case you’re wondering, we did ask respondents themselves about their propensity to shirk their responsibilities while working at home and 32% confessed to taking advantage to a large or to some extent, across the region. When commenting on their colleagues the average in Asia Pacific was 46%.    In the US, although the pandemic is likely to act as a catalyst towards more staff WFH and more flexible working generally, there are some companies that don’t seem to be following that track. In February this year David Solomon, the CEO at Goldman Sachs, labelled WFH as an “aberration” and not the “new normal” that many have predicted it will be. The CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings, called remote working “pure negative” late last year and called for his staff to return to the office “12 hours after a vaccine is approved.”    These approaches have very much gone against the grain in the US and Europe. Think of Microsoft letting their employees know, in October last year, that they will have the option of WFH permanently, with manager approval, if they so desire. Facebook, Spotify and Twitter have done the same. PwC announced recently that staff could start work as early or as late as they wanted, and work from home a couple of days a week.   It seems though that, in Asia, the contrary views of Messrs. Soloman and Hastings may not be far from the post-COVID reality here.    Distrust and poor home working environment aside, there are other factors at play that will mean that Asia will boomerang back to the “old normal” post-COVID, as we have already seen in China, many of which are culturally orientated. Dig deeper into David Solomon’s thought process and this becomes evident; “I do think for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative, apprenticeship culture, this (WFH) is not ideal for us.“ Simply put there are ways that offices can create a corporate culture that certainly can’t be done WFH, working through a screen. Communicating an organisation’s values is done far more easily face-to-face.    The office also offers myriad other benefits from straightforward things like providing structure and routine to one’s day, to providing a source of friends and fun, to real purpose. Some have seen it as a source of comfort and refuge when life isn’t going their way in other areas. For managers, it’s harder to pick up on how staff are feeling when interactions aren’t in person. Brainstorming / problem-solving tasks are harder to do remotely as shared ideas, energy and creativity can be lost.  Yes, WFH does circumvent the need to commute and you certainly get fewer interruptions but going to an office and interacting with others does provide variety and a chance to leave work behind at the end of the day, unlike WFH, which offers no escape.   Zoom fatigue has been on the rise too. With key non-verbal communication lost, video call attendees tend to exaggerate their facial cues, and also speak 15% louder than they do in person, both of which are tiring. Video call transmission gaps of just 1.2 seconds have been shown to make attendees seem less friendly, attentive and conscientious.    It has also been stressful for many being forced to lock eyes with other meeting attendees as well as being close up to them. Research by Stanford University compared the experience to being in a lift that’s at full capacity where you are not allowed to avert your gaze. People’s faces on video calls are the same as if you were standing half a metre apart from them according to the study.    A survey by Washington University found that People spent 40% of their time looking at their own face on the video call screen, which hasn’t been good for people’s self-esteem. Another study pointed to the fact that a third of women said they were talked over, interrupted or ignored more frequently during a virtual meeting than in face-to-face ones.    WFH might also affect people’s promotional prospects. When some team members are developing in-person relationships with managers in the office, will remote workers feel disadvantaged? As IBM’s chief executive Arvind Krishna put it, “When people are remote, I worry about what their career trajectory is going to be. If they want to become a people manager, if they want to get increasing responsibilities, or if they want to build a culture within their teams, how are we going to do that remotely?”    As evidenced, we are also working longer hours if we choose to WFH. I doubt very much that organisations will compensate for the extra hours worked and quite frankly it’s hardly surprising that bosses are keen for staff to work at home - not only are their subordinates working harder, but it also saves on rent. Steering employees towards WFH may not be a sign of altruism and good feeling on the part of the organisation, it might well have a sharp commercial edge to it.           ​Although China seems to be very much at one end of the spectrum when it comes to where employees prefer to work, Hong Kong and Singapore seem to be headed towards a more hybrid approach where people have the option of working in an office or WFH. From a survey we conducted just before the pandemic, in January 2020, within which we serendipitously asked questions about flexible working, we found that people were simply very keen to have the freedom to choose where and when they did their work. Not that many wanted to work from home permanently, but many simply wanted more fluidity.      Which flexible working options are the most important or appeal most to you? (Data gathered pre-COVID-19)      What has become very evident during the last 12 months is that we are all very different in our thought process when it comes to working in an office versus our homes, as well as understanding what makes us more productive and happier. Individual needs can vary broadly within an organisation so companies that listen to their staff will be the ones to retain them.  This will become key as job markets around the world continue to pick up. 
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Profile Legal & Compliance Market Update 2021

As our clients and candidates get used to the new normal in APAC, we’ve seen a surge in hiring so far in 2021. This was expected and is mainly driven by two things. Firstly, the pent-up demand from clients that paused hiring and held back headcounts in 2020, followed by optimism for the year ahead as the world recovers from the global pandemic. We expect China to continue its growth trajectory in hiring, particularly as many multinational companies have started to move some of their regional layers to the mainland, adding to domestic growth. We are also seeing a rise in “out-of-the-box” hires as clients are more open to recruiting from outside their industries. SIX HIRING TRENDS ACROSS APAC 1. DIGITAL, DIGITAL AND MORE DIGITAL The urgency to advance tech during the pandemic has meant that from a digital perspective, organisations have had to adapt at a rate like never before. And to keep up with the rapid pace of technological change, the number of people applying with digital skills in APAC is set to see a five-fold increase (and then some) from 149 million workers today to 819 million in 2025. To achieve this level of skilling in the region, the average worker will need to gain seven new digital skills by 2025, research from Amazon Web Services suggested. As a result, lawyers with technology exposure and/or the ability to support digitalisation initiatives are in high demand, everywhere. Many legal teams have been working hard to sharpen their digital skills throughout the pandemic, with the ability to not just conduct data analysis, but present it using data visualisation, transforming how they work by providing invaluable insight. We expect this demand to continue over the coming months as businesses continue to get used to the new normal. APAC is home to more than half of the world's internet users and according to estimates, 60% of the APAC region's GDP will be derived from digital products or services in 2021, with technologies adding 0.8% annual to GDP. 2. CANDIDATES ARE LOOKING A lot of the workers who were fearful about changing jobs in 2020 because they didn’t want to be the “last in, first out”, are now willing to look elsewhere. The new normal is now, well, normal. And we’re seeing an uptick from the previous year (April 2020) in the number of professionals across APAC who intend to leave their current organisation within the next six to nine months. Further, based on our annual surveys of over 3,000 professionals across APAC, our research from March 2021 showed that of those who have made a career move recently, 44% said it was due to a lack of career growth and developmental opportunities. As a result, organisations will need to ensure they develop and implement robust training programs and communicate this to jobseekers via their recruitment marketing activities.    % of respondents who indicated an intention to leave their current organisation in the near future 3. OUT-OF-THE-BOX HIRES RISING Those in General Counsel and Head of Compliance roles are increasingly willing to hire from outside their industries. They are also focusing less on technical expertise and favouring stakeholder engagement skills instead. This is because the disruption associated with the pandemic meant many legal counsel professionals took on the role of strategic leaders and advisors within their businesses, and this will only carry on. Stakeholder engagement skills are now viewed as a desirable, if not key skill, as a result. 4. CAPITAL MARKETS BACK IN VOGUE Firms are getting back to capital markets to fundraise. In addition, the ongoing volatility of global markets, coupled with the recent economic tensions between China and the US, will no doubt increase the number of local Chinese companies listed in the US seeking a secondary listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. This means that legal counsels with capital markets experience will carry on being highly sought after in the region. 5. CHINA The hiring of senior legal professionals has gone up as multinational companies continue to move their APAC operations to China. In fact, local internet giants have already been bolstering their in-house M&A legal talent to support future business growth. Meanwhile, the easing of Chinese regulations allowing foreign investors access to Chinese domestic markets has fuelled hiring across the board for bilingual legal & compliance professionals with asset and wealth management experience. APAC has also recently seen a surge of domestic Chinese companies expanding their operations in the region. Many Chinese tech giants, such as TikTok, Alibaba and Tencent, have set up hubs in Singapore and the city-state is now seeing a talent crunch within the industry, underscoring the need for legal professionals with digital skills and experience. ​6. ASSET OWNERS/ MANAGERS Asset owners/managers have been steadily expanding their investment capabilities, especially on the private side. This has resulted in a strong demand for private asset lawyers who specialise in private equity, real estate and credit. ​ HIRING HOTSPOTS FOR 2021 These are areas of high demand amongst our clients: Mandarin-speaking Counsels & Compliance Officers Asset & Wealth Management Compliance Officers Data Privacy Legal & Compliance professionals Counsels with in-house digital/ technology project management experience Capital Market Lawyers Counsels with in-house IPO experience Legal & Compliance professionals with a solution-oriented mindset RECENT PLACEMENTS BY PROFILE ROLE ORGANISATION LOCATION      Head of Legal and Compliance European Healthcare Firm Singapore Senior Digital Legal Counsel Insurance Firm Singapore APAC Head of Legal Global Fund Manager Singapore Legal Counsel Multi-Family Office Singapore Legal Counsel Global Fund Manager Singapore IP Counsel Global Luxury Brand Singapore Legal Manager Real Estate Firm Singapore SG Head of Risk and Compliance Fund Manager Singapore Director, Compliance Global Infrastructure Fund Singapore VP, Compliance Global Private Equity Fund Singapore APAC Head of Legal European Fund Manager Hong Kong          Greater China Head of Compliance US Private Equity Fund Hong Kong Greater Head of Compliance US Fund Manager Hong Kong Hong Kong Head of Compliance European Fund Manager Hong Kong Hong Kong Head of Compliance US Brokerage Hong Kong APAC Head of Investment Compliance                          US Fund Manager Hong Kong APAC Legal Counsel European Fund Manager Hong Kong Legal Counsel Global Insurance Firm Hong Kong Compliance Officer Hedge Fund Hong Kong Legal & Compliance Officer US Private Equity Fund                                 Hong Kong Legal VP TMT Company China Legal Counsel European Luxury Brand China Legal Counsel                                                                    Chinese Healthcare Company China Contracts Counsel, APAC US Management Firm China Chief Compliance & Risk Officer UK Asset Manager China Chief Compliance Officer UK Asset Manager China Chief Compliance Officer US Asset Manager China MD, CCO, AMC US Asset Manager China Chief Compliance Officer, China AMC US Asset Manager China Senior Legal & Compliance Counsel US Asset Manager China AVP, Investment Compliance US Asset Manager China Chief Compliance Officer US Asset Manager China Senior Compliance Manager Global Asset Manager China VP, Compliance Global Asset Manager China Compliance Analyst US Asset Manager China MD, Chief Compliance Officer, JV WMC US Asset Manager China Head of Compliance UK Asset Manager China VP, Compliance, JV WMC US Asset Manager China Director, Compliance Global Infrastructure Fund China VP, Compliance Global Private Equity Fund China KEY CONTACTS For more information or individually tailored advice, please do not hesitate to contact our regional Legal & Compliance team: Hong Kong Office - please contact Sonny Wong Singapore Office - please contact Suan Wei Yeo Shanghai Office - please contact Andy Zhi or Sophia Sun Click here to download the full report. Sources: New report: Asia Pacific workforce applying digital skills will need to increase five-fold by 2025 | AWS Public Sector Blog (
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Are you ready for the bounce?

Richard Letcher, Managing Director of Profile, A WilsonHCG Company, discusses candidate's thoughts and intentions to leave their organisation post-COVID-19.   As COVID-19 vaccinations continue to roll out across Asia Pacific, are companies across all sectors ready for the post-pandemic job market pick up?   In certain segments of the market we have already seen an uptick in hiring regionally, starting from Q4 last year (and even before in certain areas) for strong candidates, notably across financial services, digital and e-commerce, healthcare, education and supply chain. Overall, although there is a long way yet to reach the level of past boom years, things are certainly healthier now than the second and third quarters of 2020.    China is somewhat of an anomaly within APAC as the job market there started to bounce back in June last year. It has been gathering momentum ever since, particularly in the technology space (notably internet and 5G-related firms), healthcare and health services, as well as FMCG and luxury.   Over February and March this year, we conducted a follow-up survey to the one we did in April last year on the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak on our working lives in Asia Pacific. Just under 2,000 people filled in the survey, ensuring a robust data set. The majority of people who responded were in Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, mainland China and Australia. Level-wise, respondents were in mid to senior roles, with 52% working in non-human resources positions. The information gleaned will form the basis of a series of blogs, of which this is the first. Below is a summary of who filled it in:          ​Currently, we are at a crossroads as we enter Q2. More firms are hiring, as evidenced by numerous data sources published by governments and job boards alike, with most job markets across the region having shown signs of life towards the end of last year.    That’s demand, but what about the supply of prospective candidates to fill this increasing number of roles?   In April 2020, we asked survey respondents if they intended to leave their organisation within six to nine months, and the results were quite marked. In fact, the response was the lowest we have seen to date, from several years of asking the question in our annual surveys.   This was mainly due to two main factors. The first was the (correct) perception that there were not many job opportunities out there, with many thinking, “why even bother to look?” The second was a real fear of being “last in, first out” if they were to join another company.   Fast forward nearly a year to March 2021 and people are still slightly reticent to make a move compared to the historic averages of 60-70% shown in the graph below, but it is clear that times are a-changing as more confidence seeps into the job market, and potential candidates take calls from headhunters more seriously.          There are also other forces at play leading to higher retention rates. We asked those respondents who did not intend to leave their organisation their reasons for staying in our most recent survey:        Within the top four, three are factors related to the people-element of work, such as culture and professional relationships. Could the pandemic have magnified these? In times of hardship, could it be that organisations have become akin to a family for many, enhanced by the benefits companies have rolled out (e.g., wellness allowances, reimbursement of childcare costs, “no computer screen” afternoons)?    For those content in their roles, Gen Y was the most vocal about what made them happy at work. “Working arrangement changes work well for me” and “I feel appreciated” were the top reasons for staying. Gen Y also identified other reasons which did not make the top six above, such as “job security”, “strong career growth and development opportunities” and “strong leadership from line manager”.   For those who do intend to leave their organisation, their reasons for leaving are remarkably similar to the results of a pre-COVID-19 survey we conducted in January 2020. The top six are the same as early 2020, with the “lack of career growth and developmental opportunities” as the top reason for leaving. However, “insufficient financial rewards” has been replaced by the more altruistic “lack of opportunity to make a difference”, which perhaps is not surprising.        Interestingly, from the March 2021 data, the survey respondents who intend to head for the exit door tend to be junior to senior-level managers, and not the C-suite or non-managerial staff. Not surprisingly, Gen Y is particularly concerned over their “lack of career growth and developmental opportunities”, as well as “insufficient financial rewards” and “risk of burnout”, the latter two not making the top six overall.    Those working in Financial Services had more gripes than respondents in other sectors, with particular pain points being “lack of career growth”, “politics”, “poor leadership” and “insufficient financial rewards”. In Singapore, respondents were more vocal than other countries, especially when it came to “lack of career growth”, “lack of opportunity to make a difference” and “lack of appreciation”.   As the job market pickup gathers momentum over the coming months, we expect that there will be a short-term dearth of potential candidates willing to take the risk and jump ship to another firm.   However, as populations in Asia Pacific are vaccinated over the coming months, the risk of additional COVID-19 waves will dissipate – in turn, as the positive cycle of economic growth continues, we expect prospective candidates to get wind of the fact that there are more opportunities out there, and also the fear of joining a new company, to be made redundant soon after, will fade.   That paid-for subscription to Headspace or the online gym may soon be forgotten and people will start to hanker after a bigger role with less politics and a higher chance of making a difference, with the result that the job market will head in a more northerly direction and we will see far more movement than there is now.   In some companies, this might come suddenly and pose an awkward problem to which they are ill-prepared. The perception of some employers that “staff have nowhere to go to if they did want to leave” has led to weaker retention initiatives and guards have been let down. Now is the time to start thinking about this, if it is not too late.   Although the number of candidates open to a move is expected to grow, demand in some areas will outstrip supply sooner than people potentially think. Things will undoubtedly become tighter, exacerbated by some expatriates moving back home from places like Hong Kong and Singapore. If growth is on the cards, with an accompanying increase in headcount predicted, firms need to put in place a robust talent acquisition, as well as retention, strategy sooner rather than later before cupboards become bare. 
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5 ways to build social capital in the workplace

With working lives continuing to operate virtually, many people are becoming increasingly distant to their coworkers. As employee engagement has a significant impact on business success, the absence of the people element of a workplace requires consideration. The most efficient businesses are those with employees who trust one another. When coworkers trust each other, projects are completed more effectively, time is used productively and employees are more engaged. People who felt highly trusted at work reported 74% less stress, 106% more energy, 50% higher productivity and 76% higher engagement at work than respondents at low-trust firms, according to a study published in the Harvard Business Review. This concept of mutual respect and trust is often referred to as “social capital”. What is social capital? Social capital is a set of shared values that encourage and allow people to work together to achieve a common goal. It’s all the positive aspects which come from humans interacting. In the workplace, social capital helps a business achieve success by creating and fostering a sense of mutual values and respect, trust and a safe space for ideas and innovation to thrive. This concept applies to employees within your organisation as well as to clients and partnerships. While this may seem like a straightforward approach, building social capital can be increasingly difficult as we continue to adjust to the new way of working. So, how can an organisation foster social capital amidst a global pandemic? Promote open communication. Encourage employees to engage with each other freely. COVID-19 has altered how we communicate, so pivoting to find productive new ways of developing these internal networks is crucial. Even asking others to share something informal about the weekend before jumping into the order of business can encourage more significant relationships to build and allow colleagues to identify connections that may not have been evident previously. Particularly as many companies continue to work remotely, consider developing a virtual buddy program. By creating matches based on mutual interests, employees can build relationships with their colleagues outside their team, department or even country. Find a shared identity. Establish employee resource groups (ERGs) and forums for employees to encourage relationships beyond their business line or team. These ERGs and forums can focus on anything from hobbies or themes surrounding diversity and inclusion. For example, such a group would be ideal for introverts (and their allies) in which to engage. Discussions around these interests build a shared identity and united values that contribute to strong social capital beyond initial connections. Don’t forget to promote ERGs through recruitment marketing to show candidates that they’ll belong.  Give feedback. Encourage 360 feedback or go bold and consider scrum teams. Trust and shared identity are key to building strong social capital, so removing hierarchy wherever possible can rapidly increase this sense of shared community and goals. And remember to act on the feedback to make positive changes.   Have honest conversations. Create space for employees to collaborate, help each other and share gratitude as a common occurrence. While some competition can be healthy, encouraging honest conversations with teams and being forthcoming with praise draws people together. Perhaps consider a peer-to-peer recognition programme so colleagues can reward each other for going the extra mile. Meanwhile, the typical performance review process can do more harm than good for building social capital as it encourages teams to pull apart from each other to be at the top. Social capital moves away from this concept and helps support business success through common goals, where all play a critical part. To boost social capital in the workplace, an increasing number of organisations have implemented a team-based bonus structure by rewarding employees for successful teamwork. Set your employees up for success. Empower your employees, whether client-facing or not, to have the tools to confidently represent your business outside of work. It’s easy to assume all employees can give a quick two-minute pitch on your business and it’s surprising how many will struggle with this in one way or another. Incorporating this knowledge as part of onboarding will help ingrain this idea from the get-go, making each employee an informed representative of your organisation which will help to create positive networking opportunities.  Can you measure social capital? Measuring social capital can be challenging, as much is subjective and plays out in different forms. Regular pulse surveys and check-ins can gauge how employees are feeling and in general, these scores will continue to improve as the social capital within your organisation grows. With positive steps, social capital will lead to improved business success, a broader client pool which is highly engaged and strong attraction and retention of employees who are both happy and engaged in their work. 
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Working in Asia Pacific 2020

Our annual survey of nearly 3,000 professionals in APAC provides a pulse on working life in the region. This year, we share data from before and after the start of the COVID-19 crisis. Managing Director and Profile co-founder Richard Letcher provides insights into the impact it has had on flexible working, mental health, our confidence in leadership, and more.  Background to the report This year, following our annual Working in Asia Pacific survey on talent and human resources trends, the 5th edition of which we carried out in January pre-COVID-19, we conducted a second survey in Q2 as a result of the dramatic change in the world. The latter focused exclusively on the impact of COVID-19 on our working lives. This report is based on data from both surveys, which we conducted in conjunction with The Next Step, a national boutique HR Consultancy firm in Australia, and Roffey Park, a global leadership consulting firm.  Data is also provided for North America by our parent company, WilsonHCG.          The respondent demographics for the two surveys were almost identical - mid to senior professionals located in predominantly Singapore, China, Hong Kong SAR and Australia, and evenly split by gender. In all, 2,600 people filled in each survey, leading to a particularly robust dataset. Respondents predominantly worked in Industry & Commerce (46%) with 31% responding Financial Services and 23% Professional Services.     COVID-19: Have leaders & human resources stepped up?​ How would you rate your leadership's effectiveness with respect to dealing with COVID-19 within your organisation? For the most part, respondents felt leaders performed okay (during the initial crisis), although their performance was rated much higher in Australia and North America.  This geographical inconsistency may be due to the fact that leaders in Australia and North America were not the first to deal with the crisis, as they were in Asia, so there was time to react, prepare and take heed. Also, the survey in APAC was done in April at which point conversations in Asia were starting, or indeed had happened in some organisations, around job and salary cuts, so perhaps respondents rated their leaders lower because of this, particularly if they fell victim.​ ​ How do you feel the standing and reputation of your HR function, within your organisation, has been affected by the work it has done over the last few months with regards to COVID-19 How about HR – have they stepped up? Over the last few decades we have seen HR functions excel in the face of crises and as such, they have been rewarded with more credible, high profile positions within organisations. Has the work done by HR during the last few months enlarged this seat at the table The simple answer is “yes”.  In total, 41% of respondents thought their HR function had enhanced their reputation, but nearly a fifth thought HR's reputation had actually been tarnished by their handling of the crisis. In Australia particularly, HR’s good work has been very much appreciated and noted.  ​​ ​When we slice the data further by level we see that senior respondents are more likely to have bought into how HR has stepped up, perhaps as they have been working more closely with the HR team, and as a result, they are more acutely aware of the complexity of the situation. ​ ​ ​ Working from home – the future? Which flexible working options are the most important or appeal most to you? As a result of the data from our January survey pre-COVID-19, we can see people’s expectations of flexible working options ahead of the crisis. Our COVID-19 survey data then showed what the impact was when some of those remote working arrangements came into play.  Just before the COVID-19 crisis started, we asked respondents what they wanted when it came to flexible working options in the future. Prior to COVID-19, certainly not all of us had wanted to work entirely away from an office environment. From the graphic above, respondents were keen to have the freedom to arrive and leave work when they wanted, work from home on occasion and perhaps work the hours they chose. All of these were more important to people than ‘flexible vacation time’ (unlimited paid time off).  "My organisation offers the right level of flexible working options". For the most part, pre-COVID-19, respondents actually rated their organisations favourably when it came to flexible working options. ​ "Because COVID-19 has led to most people working from home, I feel my organisation will adopt a more flexible and agile way of working  even after COVID-19 is under control.” We are currently working in the biggest flexible working experiment we have ever known. So, who thinks it’s the future? It would appear that the majority of respondents, particularly in Australia and North America, where flexible working programs were more prevalent pre-COVID-19, believe flexibility is here to stay.  However, the data suggests comparatively less think so in China. It seems there is a greater expectation to return to the office in China or perhaps there was a greater pull back to the office and to see work colleagues. ​ The buy-in to work more flexibly seems particularly strong at the senior end, which is not necessarily what you might think. Could it be that younger professionals are keen to return to the “old norm” of the office environment as they think they are learning and developing more effectively there? If you have been working from home because of COVID-19, how productive do you feel you’ve been in comparison to if you had been working in an office environment? Is working from home actually working? From our COVID-19 survey data, it appears “potentially not” if you look at productivity, cultural differences, work-life balance and the issue of trust. Let’s examine these further. We asked respondents whether they felt more productive working at home compared to the office. A third say they are indeed more productive but an equal number say they’re about the same and the final third say they are actually less productive (citing children running around, unstable internet and small spaces shared with other family members). In Asia, particularly in China, respondents felt markedly less productive working from home than in Australia and North America.    ​ If you have been working from home, how do your number of working hours compare to if you were working in an office? Ironically, all this working at home has meant less work-life balance. Fully 60% of respondents in APAC and 57% in North America say they work a lot or a bit more in terms of the number of hours they’re working at home versus the office.     Other global surveys carried out over the last few months point to the fact that on average, we are working fifty more minutes a day working from home. A factor here is that we are not commuting so we are using that time wisely but we might be working longer hours because we are worried about losing our jobs. Only time, and future post-COVID-19 studies, will tell whether that is an issue.​ To what extent do you feel your co-workers, who are working from home as part of the COVID-19 contingency plan, are taking advantage of their flexible arrangement and not fulfilling their responsibilities as expected? A very large issue less discussed within organisations or the media is one of trust. We are obviously working longer hours when we have worked from home this year but 53% of respondents think their colleagues are not working as hard as we are! If the perception is that others think we are bunking off, can working away from the office be as viable an option going forward as many think? So, with these various barriers to working from home, could we end up with not quite what Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey has done in giving up most of his company's real estate leases in order to work from home “forever”, but what The Economist has referred to as the “optional office” which meets working in an office/at home halfway? Our mental health – how are we faring? In short, not overly well. COVID-19 has created a lot of stress for everyone; not only is there the fear of our loved ones, or ourselves, catching the virus but also the dark clouds of being let go from our jobs or having our salaries cut. Working from home has also created stress as has the way the crisis has been dealt with in some of our organisations.  Just under half of the respondents in APAC mentioned they have been adversely affected in recent months due to the pandemic, with the figure being just under 60% in North America, and many of us feel that our colleagues are suffering too.  "COVID-19 has adversely affected my mental health."    When we break it down by geography Hong Kong is markedly worse off with regards to individual respondent’s mental health. Economically the territory has not been doing well and mental health had already been adversely affected by the uncertain political situation and the protests last year. Add in a pandemic and additional economic woes and it isn’t surprising.  Generation Y reports a higher negative impact, which might be due to their greater propensity to talk about and be open about mental health issues, a point backed up by previous research we have done.    ​"I feel that COVID-19 has made it more acceptable to discuss mental health issues with my colleagues/manager." As more people are experiencing higher levels of stress in their personal and work lives, there now appears to be a greater openness to talk about mental health issues with colleagues and managers compared to before which, beyond COVID-19, may prove to be beneficial in the campaign to encourage discussion about mental health issues. How has the response by your leadership to the COVID-19 crisis affected your levels of stress? Our data points to the response of leadership, within some organisations, being the cause of elevated stress levels through lack of communication and direction leading to uncertainty for many. For this topic we had an open field within the questionnaire - these are four responses that encapsulate what people have been going through.    Regarding mental health, what support does your organisation offer? How are organisations tackling mental health? We asked respondents, in the pre-COVID-19 survey in January, to “tick all that apply“ from seven options and here are the results.     ​​Employee assistance programs was the number one tool of choice in 2019 as well. It is worrying that a third of respondents thought that nothing is offered. It will be interesting to note how this changes post-COVID-19. Retention – the COVID-19 effect Are you considering leaving your organisation in the next 6-9 months? Every year our survey asks all respondents whether they have an intention to leave their current organisation in the near future. With the poor economic outlook in January this year, fewer people were open to move given the risk. But COVID-19 has caused people to be even more cautious of making a move with the lowest percentages we have seen since we started the survey five years ago. The perception is that there are far fewer jobs to go to and there is also the risk of being “last in first out“. (Note: we only have Australian data starting from 2019). ​ But when the job market bounces back across the region post-COVID-19, points of frustration for all employees will undoubtedly return. These are the top six pain points for professionals across APAC according to respondents who filled in our January survey. “Lack of career growth and developmental opportunities” is always the main motivator to leave from previous surveys we have carried out, but there are three other trends which are worth noting. The first is that weak leadership is key in people’s decision to stay or go. The second is that money is never as important as you think, and the third is that politics is a key driver for people leaving organisations.  ​ What do you consider to be the major stressors in your working life? Politics is the key contributor to high-stress levels at work and also inhibits teamwork. It appears to be a hidden enemy as it doesn’t seem to be a topic of conversation within companies currently and is rarely given as a reason for leaving a company. From the data, it is a big factor especially within financial services, large companies and for Generation X and Baby Boomers. ​Key Contacts For more information or individually tailored advice, please do not hesitate to contact our regional Human Resources team: Hong Kong office - Richard Letcher, Managing Director Singapore office - James Rushworth, Managing Director Shanghai office - Shelya Zhou, Associate Director
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