HR Function in the Asia Pacific Region Reinvents Practices for Multi-generational Employees

This article first appeared in the September/October 2019 edition of Human Resources, the official journal of the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management.

  • Based on the views of more than 2,800 HR and non-HR professionals across Australia, Hong Kong, Mainland China and Singapore, the Roffey Park Institute and Profile Search & Selection Working in Asia Pacific: Key HR and Leadership Priorities for 2019 survey covers a wide area ranging from organisational culture and change, to well-being.

  • The survey aims to provide insights on helping HR practitioners and their organisations to decide what they need to start, stop or continue doing in order to build and further develop their talent management strategies.


As the role of the Human Resources (HR) profession in the Asia Pacific region continues to evolve, HR practitioners face a range of challenges that are further nuanced across countries and jurisdictions and between generations. Together with leadership development consultancy, the Roffey Park Institute, Profile Search & Selection carried out its fourth annual survey and report on Working in Asia Pacific: Key HR and Leadership Priorities for 2019. Covering the views of respondents from a wide range of industry sectors and organisations both large and small, the survey sets out to guide HR practitioners and the organisations they work for on what they need to do to translate the findings into strategies and practical plans.


Rating the HR profession

Amid expanding responsibilities, when both HR and non-HR professionals were asked to rate the capability of the HR function and their perception of it, confidence in the HR function to deliver for the business across all capabilities was quite low, specifically in relation to the use of AI, analytics and the HR function’s approach to succession planning. This is surprising given that more than ever before, organisations in Asia Pacific have been spending time building their talent management functions. As a response to these findings, organisations are urged to bring people from across their business, to collaborate and work together to address the perceived capability gaps.



On a brighter note, indicating green shoots of confidence, the survey identified from HR professionals and non-HR professionals alike, a growing HR capability and reputation in the areas of developing inclusive and diverse workforces and facilitating learning. In addition, last year has seen a big leap towards improving workplace well-being. But perhaps we should ask if this is really enough, what do employees genuinely look for in an organisation, and does the new generation of graduate employees aspire to work in the same environments as their predecessors.


Taking the pulse of an increasingly transient workforce

One of the fundamental questions respondents were asked was “Are you considering a job move in the near future?” Across the four geographic markets surveyed, an average of 67% of respondents indicated positively that they would be open to exploring a new job opportunity.


Breaking this down further, it seems that Generation X employees indicated more of an intention to leave their current organisation, compared with employees that belong to the Baby Boomer and Gen Y generations. Equally hard to ignore is the finding that more than two-thirds of respondents are potentially ambivalent – or worse, disengaged – with their current companies and/or roles.



Delving deeper into the topic, to asses why employees are considering a job move, of the many answers given, the top reply cited was a “lack of career growth and developmental opportunities”. This was followed by a “lack of opportunity to make a difference” and a “lack of appreciation or recognition”. Surprisingly, many respondents also said they were considering a move due to “organisational politics”.



Across the four markets surveyed, the reasons feeding a job move were fairly consistent. For Mainland China respondents, however, the fourth highest response cited as a key motivator to leave the current employer was “insufficient financial rewards”. 


Broken down by generation, Gen X and Gen Y were more concerned with making a difference, while baby boomers focused on a lack of career growth and developmental opportunities. It is also noteworthy that a large percentage of respondents (33%) felt a “lack of appreciation” at their current organisations, a perception which has a strong linkage to the relationships they have with their colleagues, and in particular, their managers.



When asked how they would rate their line managers, about a third of respondents said they were weak at “connecting with employees on a personal and emotional level”. They were also considered weak at “giving praise and recognition for work done”. On the other hand, around a third of respondents acknowledged that their line managers were “excellent” at “empowering employees to make decisions”, “treating people fairly”, and “giving praise and recognition”. The findings indicate that while managers lean towards strong technical qualities, in other instances they lack the “human” and “emotional” side of delivering feedback and empathy that respondents are looking for.


Stress causing factors

Other factors certainly play a role in why employees may be unhappy or feel disconnected at work. When asked what they consider to be the major stress causing factors in their working life, respondents cited “poor strategic direction”, “lack of support from the top” and “organisational politics”. Mainland China was an anomaly, with respondents rating “poor strategic direction” and “organisational politics” very low, although consistent with the Hong Kong and Singapore markets, a “lack of support” from their organisations is deemed a major cause of stress.



From the research findings, organisational politics – one of the causes of stress – can be linked to “organisational change”. In particular, a lack of transparency, power struggles, bias and favouritism were cited as the main stress inducing factors. However, a fairly sizeable group of respondents also cited “undermining peers” – for example gossip, bullying, backstabbing, and misuse of power – as a cause of stress. It is clear that politics play a significant role in why individuals choose to leave their companies, and somewhat worryingly, it could be argued that these challenges are at the heart of organisational culture, and therefore not something that is easy to change overnight.


Mental health and productivity

This year, the survey dedicated a number of questions to the issue of mental health. In comparison with the 2018 results, it is noteworthy that more respondents felt comfortable discussing mental health issues with both colleagues and managers. Even so, only about 50% of respondents in Asia felt comfortable discussing mental health issues with their colleagues and managers, compared with 67% of Australian respondents. While respondents resoundingly indicated that work-related mental health and well-being issues are a major concern, it is notable that more than half of the organisations in Asia where respondents are employed fail to recognise mental health as a serious issue.



Perhaps even more alarmingly, the majority of respondents (70%) felt that their current job is adversely affecting their mental health “to some or a greater extent”. Notably this figure is highest in Mainland China (83%) and lowest in Australia (62%).



When asked what type of support employers offer to assist employees suffering from mental ill-health, the results significantly showed that Australia is far more forward-thinking with 92% saying they offer “employee assistance programs” versus 23% in Mainland China. For each category, from offering “back to work assistance” and a “supportive and open culture”, to “mental health training”, Australia came out on top with Hong Kong, Singapore and Mainland China lagging considerably behind.


Attracting and retaining employees

Having assessed the various reasons why employees might leave an organisation, what do employees really want, and how can the HR function embrace the opportunity to offer and create this, and in so doing, instil greater confidence in their organisations? The top answer for Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore was “a culture that embraces professional development and continued learning”. Interestingly, while this was also a main benchmark for respondents from Mainland Chian, the top answer there was a “strong image of the organisation in the marketplace”.


“Financial stability” ranked second for Singapore and third for Hong Kong. Meanwhile, respondents from Australia ranked “financial stability” fifth and rated “flexible work policies” in second place. Flexible working policies also featured in the top five preferences for Hong Kong and Singapore, proving to be more important for employees than in previous surveys. However, flexible working policies didn’t rate among the top five preferences from Mainland China respondents.


Respondents from Hong Kong and Singapore also indicated they were looking for a “culture that is non-political”. Respondents from Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore also cited “strong leadership”, which didn’t feature in the top five preferences among Mainland China respondents who instead cited “market leader in the industry sector” as a preference.


Similarities and differences

When asked what motivates respondents at work, across the four markets the results were fairly similar, with respondents citing the “opportunity to make a difference”, “achieving results” and “respectful and friendly colleagues”. The only difference was Hong Kong where respondents cited “financial rewards” as a key motivator, while both Singapore and Australian respondents noted “autonomy and freedom to decide on what, how, where and when work is done” as motivating factors. Respondents from Mainland China provided significantly different answers. The top four motivators cited by respondents include a “strong vision from the organisational leader”, “financial rewards”, “recognition by others” and the “opportunity to develop new skills”.



When looking at the four markets surveyed, it is noteworthy to compare the nuances, preferences and priorities, as well as the similarities and differences. The eagerness from Mainland China respondents to look for a strong brand image and market leader reflects a pervasive keenness to work for an organisation seeking to compete on the global stage. Respondents from Hong Kong and Singapore, on the other hand, rate financial stability over flexible working environment, while respondents from Australia clearly demonstrate preferences for flexible work practices and strong leadership from management over financial stability.


In conclusion, despite some differences across the different employment markets, fundamentally it seems that employees will leave an environment that is not willing or able to help them to develop professionally or is internally political. At the same time, professionals will prioritise firms who can offer an open culture that embraces learning, as well as financial stability and flexible working policies.


Amanda Clarke, Director, Profile Search & Selection


October 2019

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