Hong Kong workers could be happier

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 February, 2006, 12:00am

Hong Kong's employees are among the most dissatisfied in Asia Pacific, according to the latest survey of workers attitudes by consultants Watson Wyatt. The study of 36 local companies spanned a wide spectrum, from property firms to regulatory bodies, with the finance industry the dominant sector with 27 per cent of participants.

Top in the disaffection list was compensation and benefits, with only 21 per cent of employees saying they were satisfied compared with the 30 per cent average for the rest of Asia-Pacific and 35 per cent for China.

That only one in five Hong Kong employees viewed their compensation and benefits favourably was not surprising because there is always a tendency to answer negatively about pay, said Gabriela Domicelj, principal consultant with Watson Wyatt.

However, many think they are hard done by in the pay stakes compared with colleagues. Asked if they thought their 'total compensation package' matched those of staff holding similar jobs in other companies, only 15 per cent responded positively while 31 per cent took the opposite view.

There were some positives: Hong Kong's employees are satisfied with the honesty and integrity of their employers and most said they believed they understood how their work created an impact on their customers.

When it came to leadership and management effectiveness, local companies were regarded poorly, with only 28 per cent rating their company positively compared with 40 per cent for Asia Pacific and 50 per cent for those questioned in China.

Employee development and training were rated equally, with only 35 per cent of respondents rating them favourably, as against 53 per cent regionally and 50 per cent for China.

Even so, 69 per cent of Hong Kong employees said they were committed to staying in their jobs for at least another year.

'Comparison with the WorkAsia survey shows a very similar result, with 73 per cent saying they would stay with their present company for a year, versus 69 per cent in Hong Kong.'

Ms Domicelj said the employees' intention to stay for a year was interesting, considering the high job turnover rate in Hong Kong just now. Reasons for leaving and staying were complex, she noted.

'Job stability and security, relations with colleagues, good life-work balance, if they find these present with current employers, they are happy to stay.' Nevertheless, the study showed that the top reason for staying was a good compensation package.

When deciding to leave, out in front was compensation, with 64 per cent saying they would leave for more money. Fifty-five per cent cited career opportunities as a main reason, with only 9 per cent each mentioning a better life or stability and security.

However, overall Hong Kong scores were low, Ms Domicelj stressed. 'The key message is that Hong Kong employees are generally less satisfied than the Asian average in all categories.'

She added that not only had they come out worse than the Asian norm but that nine of 10 categories have a rating of less than 50, meaning that less than half of Hong Kong employees answered favourably.

It also emerged from the study that many Hong Kong companies had experienced dramatic changes in the past year, with another area of negative opinion surfacing around the management of this change.

Forty per cent of respondents said their firm had undergone restructuring, 36 per cent had grown or expanded while 16 per cent had downsized. As to how these changes had been managed, 19 per cent thought favourably while 25 per cent took the opposite view. This raises an important question about how well Hong Kong companies are handling change, Ms Domicelj says.

A glance at the performance management and supervision category shows that only one in four employees thinks poor performance is dealt with effectively. The flipside of this is high-performing people are well rewarded, according to 33 per cent of respondents.

Asked whether their company dealt well with employees who needed to improve, 21 per cent said yes, versus negative responses of 36 per cent.

'Dealing with poor performance is difficult here, there are cultural issues in Hong Kong,' Ms Domicelj says. 'These results are weaker than they would be in the US - people here find it hard to face up to poor performance.'

A supervisor feels as if a poor performance by staff reflects badly on him or her and so tends to hide the issue rather than deal with it, Ms Domicelj says. However, she adds employers increasingly want such matters handled more firmly.

When it came to staff having a clear idea about possible career paths within their company, the answers showed only 36 per cent took a positive view and 29 per cent negative. Almost half, 47 per cent, said they understood the measures used to calculate their performance, with only 41 per cent saying they received regular feedback about their performance.

When it came to supervision, senior management rated themselves consistently higher than did their subordinates. On making decisions in a timely manner, 36 per cent of management rated the company's performance favourably compared with only 25 per cent of non-management. Twenty-seven per cent of managers thought they encouraged employees in decision making compared with only 20 per cent of non-management who agreed.

The gap got wider under 'treating you with respect', with 61 per cent of senior managers believing their company did so, while only 43 per cent of non-management took the same view.

Asked to rate their immediate superiors on helping to solve work-related problems, 47 per cent of managers responded favourably but only 37 per cent of junior staff agreed. The gap was similar when it came to giving recognition for a job well done with 48 per cent of managers giving positive ratings compared with only 35 per cent of non-managers.

Managers had far more confidence in their immediate supervisors than junior staff did in theirs with half of senior managers answering positively compared with 37 per cent of non-managers.