How employee priorities have shifted in APAC
In contrast to preceding years, employee priorities in the post-COVID-19 era are more holistic and there’s now a big focus on wellness, family, inclusiveness, flexibilty and the opportunity to make a real difference.THE POST-COVID-19 ERA: How and why we have changedThe shift to remote work, which originally started during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, has had a huge impact on employee priorities. It showed employees that flexibility on how and where they work was possible.Intrinsically, jobs now need to fit around employees’ personal lives — and work is just one part of that. Many families saw extra time at home as a positive because they no longer had to commute, and as such, some are reluctant to go back to the office full time. Employees have become more wary of travel assignments, preferring roles based close to home.Throughout APAC, and during the last few years of on and off lockdowns, many people have been unable to see loved ones abroad or travel freely. This has further reinforced the importance of flexible working, family and well-being to today’s employees. With worries of the pandemic ever-present, it is unsurprising that family time has become so incredibly important which has contributed to the desire for flexibilty.Employees are actively seeking environments that will improve their well-being, reduce stress and provide more fulfilling work. There’s an increased desire to learn new skills, re-train, go into higher education or even switch careers altogether. In fact, one of the main reasons why people leave their jobs is lack of development options. 94% of people would stay with a company longer if that company showed commitment to helping them learn, research from LinkedIn revealed.Notably, only two years prior, flexible (or hybrid) working was still a very new concept in Asia. Moreover, mental health and well-being in the workplace were topics only ever explored at a woefully superficial level. The COVID-19 pandemic has, however, helped to showcase the importance of mental health and well-being in the workplace.The Great Resignation has shown candidates want to take control back; that fundamentally, they want the choice of where and how they work.FLEXIBLE WORKING: The freedom of choiceBeyond a prescribed few days a week working from home, the main rhetoric from employees and candidates in APAC is that they would like the ability to choose for themselves what works for them. This includes the hours they work, the location and even, to some extent, the country. Some candidates have even started asking their employers if they have policies that will allow them to work abroad for a month or two during the year.An increasing number of organisations in Asia are now offering a hybrid solution; either across the board or tiered, depending on your job scope or role (i.e. a minimum of two, three or four days a week in the office). Some are writing policy on it and others are working with managers to suggest updated ‘guidelines.’ Some firms have gone one step further to promote fully remote and/or choose for yourself options. Others have closed their offices indefinitely — while at the other extreme, a few companies are insisting on five days a week in the office. These firms have repeatedly cited the need to foster a ‘campus culture’ of learning. They claim this does not happen in silos where teams cannot physically collaborate. A few CEOs have been outspoken with their opinions on the importance of getting back to the office full time.Although we’re seeing a growing trend for a four-day week across the world, we have yet to see if this will take off in the APAC region.Work-life balance trumps salaries for jobseekers globally, with 63% of professionals saying it is their priority, ahead of pay and benefits (60%). (Source: LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends 2022 Report)WELL-BEING: Care and compassionRecent reports suggest employees are feeling anxious and burnt out. So, it comes as no surprise to see there has been a collective drive across much of the working world to enhance health and wellness in the workplace. Well-being also has a direct impact on an organisation’s bottom line, as Gallup datashows highly engaged teams show 21% greater profitability.More than this, true employee well-being demands the need for empathetic leaders who drive strategies to support both physical and mental health. Some organisations have launched new resiliency programs and others are improving the ones they already have.Other firms are encouraging initatives like no meetings on Fridays or reduced hours during summer months. One US bank, which has offices throughout APAC, has launched a global policyof 12 weeks’ sabbatical at 25% of base pay (a minimum of 3-5 years of service is required).The shift from remedial intervention to preventative work focusing on employees’ core health, wellness (and dare we venture, happiness?) is palpable. And employees are quick to jump on board. A recent report from LinkedIn stated: employees “want to work for employers that value their physical and emotional well-being. And they’re ready to walk away from those that don’t.”EMPLOYEE BENEFITS: Focusing on inclusivity and equalityAs companies take a more holistic approach to employee well-being, leaders are turning to benefits plans. Policies are shifting, with an emphasis to be more inclusive, including recognition for family, same-sex marriage and overall equality.Employees are expecting medical plans and life insurance policies to cover dependents including same-sex partners where recognized. Several employers are making conscious moves to offer equitable benefits for caregivers with equivalents to paternity as maternity leave. Many include adoption leave and some now cover IVF. Firms are stepping up their medical coverage, including more comprehensive annual checkups. One organisation is even mandating bi-annual checkups; if you fall sick and you’ve had a checkup within two years, the firm may cover medical costs. If you haven’t, your medical bills will only partially be reimbursed. They have saved thousands of dollars in the early detection of serious illnesses. And as a result, it has a healthier workplace with a significant reduction in days lost due to sick leave.The overall sense is one of choice, equality, non-judgement and transparency. Anecdotally, the number of prospective candidates who are asking more detailed questions on medical coverage has grown exponentially. Many employees are also starting to question whether (and why) medical plans differ for various levels of seniority in their firm.It is only in fostering an inclusive environment that we can re-imagine and revolutionise working cultures.RE-IMAGINING CULTURES: Purpose, belonging and connectionMedical benefits alone will not change a company’s culture, nor will flexible working arrangements. True wellness can only come from an inclusive, happy and healthy environment. And it is only in fostering an inclusive environment that we can re-imagine and revolutionise working cultures.Employees today are prioritising firms that can show their commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, their stance around environment, social and governance policies (ESG), their support and involvement with local communities and their genuine ethical practices. Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB)is now a key focus in employment branding, and firms are showcasing efforts in recruitment marketing to show its stance to future candidates.We find ourselves in a unique moment in time — in a real opportunity to re-map the workplace as we know it — to improve working environments and lives with huge upside. For the companies that achieve this, they will be rewarded with long-term retention rates, and ultimately happier and healthier employees.THE IMPORTANCE OF HARD CASH: Does money still talk?Despite the quest for more holistic workplaces, these policies are not substitutions for the importance of an employee’s monthly paycheck.Compensation across the globe has increased in the last 12 months – in some cases, exponentially. Anecdotally, candidates asking for 20-25% increase on base has almost become the norm and even 40%. Increases are not unheard of this year. In part, candidates are riding a wave of strong growth in the Asia region, making up for the flat salaries seen over the past few years while simultaneously taking advantage of a talent shortage in the market. More recently, candidates are concerned with how companies will compensate them given inflationary pressures and the increased global cost of living.However, more importantly is the way we are reviewing the philosophy around compensation. There is much more consideration around salaries as a total comp target number. There’s been a move away from discretionary bonuses, and demand for more transparency is increasing. Many organisations are recognising this and are making adjustments.Furthermore, there is an expectation to pay equitably in line with internal relativities and not peg a candidate’s current salary to the job on offer. As such, some candidates interviewing for roles have started to become more reluctant to share current compensation details with prospective employers – at least, not initially.Compensation is still a powerful motivator for many and we are finding, perhaps unsurprisingly, it is more important to the younger workforce than more tenured professionals who have had more time to establish themselves and put pennies aside. Likewise, certain countries (where hard cash is still linked to status) prioritise compensation over well-being or flexible work.As we approach the last quarter of 2022, we’re still seeing high demand for talent, although candidates in the tech industry are seeking higher rewards than usual to balance out the uncertainty surrounding this sector. The uncertainty has largely been fuelled by the layoffs in tech that have been reported over in the US over the past few months.THE MANY FACES OF ASIA: Insight into China and TokyoCHINAWhile employee motivations are going through a seismic shift across the globe, each country and its citizens carry their own individual motivators, challenges and macro-economic influences.Despite recent lockdown challenges in China, it is a market still very focused on brand, title and compensation above more holistic benefits. Redundancies of the last year have made employees more risk averse, and as China doesn’t suffer from a talent shortage like the majority of the global workforce, candidates and employees don’t tend to wield as much influence here. In addition, a lot of companies in China expect their employees to work five days a week from the office.While some candidates may ask about flexibility, rarely would a candidate push back, let alone not accept a job offer should they need to be in the office full time. In stark contrast to the well-being efforts cited earlier, for many companies and employees, ‘996’ is still expected (working 9am- 9pm, six days per week).It will be interesting to see if external global influences have any impact as we look to the end of 2022 and head into 2023. With increased mental health issues predicted, will companies in China have any inclination to address this? Some MNCs are starting to instil flexible benefits, but it appears to be in the early stages.JAPANSimilar to China, Japan still places great importance on job title, compensation and brand. The career path for employees is important and often very structured. As a male-dominated society, it remains a hierarchical environment to navigate and the COVID-19 pandemic does not seem to have changed that. Multinational companies stand out in being more progressive and are certainly making advances to be more inclusive though.Despite the complexities, Japan has embraced flexible working, particularly in multinational companies, and more like the rest of the world, employees have shown their reluctance to go back to the office five days a week.Sadly, irrespective of the last few years, mental health and well-being are still not topics openly discussed in Japan. For a country with the highest suicide rate in the world, it so desperately needs to address this increasingly important topic. For now, Japan remains a country intent on maintaining ‘gaman,’ the Japanese word for ‘enduring the seemingly unbearable with dignity and patience’. We can only hope that in time, HR departments play their part to drive change and raise awareness for colleagues who may be suffering in silence.In SumAs Asia strives forward to embrace the new world of work, it is paramount that companies understand employee priorities and do what they can to adapt and evolve with the times. While each country in Asia is unique with its own challenges and concerns, there is a common goal to enjoy our personal lives as much as our working ones – and the companies that assist employees to achieve this will undoubtedly be the ones that will retain their staff for the long run. With a global shortage of talent continuing to loom ahead, can employers really afford not to adapt?