Days of benevolent office dictator are gone

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 March, 2006, 12:00am

After compensation and benefits, leadership emerged as the second worst category in the Watson Wyatt WorkHongKong survey of 36 companies. Clear indications were that local employees believe their leaders have high integrity, but are aloof, which leads to a lack of trust.

While only 21 per cent answered favourably about their pay and benefits, only a slightly higher proportion - 28 per cent - were positive about their leaders.

'It's a very damning response,' said Gabriela Domicelj, a principal consultant with Watson Wyatt.

In a similar study, Singapore, with 39 per cent, ranked its bosses much higher than in Hong Kong.

One of the report's key indices covered employee commitment - the extent to which employees express pride in working for their company and whether they will recommend it to family and friends, along with their long-term faith in its performance.

A direct link existed between a high score in employee commitment and the firm's actual high performance, so the survey sought to uncover what drove a high employee commitment response, explained Ms Domicelj.

'To get a high score, you need your employees to be favourable about leadership,' she said.

The good news is that 76 per cent of Hong Kong employees think their company does business with integrity and honesty, and about 60 per cent feel comfortable raising ethical issues at work.

But despite a vote of confidence in bosses' honesty, Hong Kong employees feel there are poor levels of trust between the senior management and themselves. Only 22 per cent answered that they trusted senior management. The Asia-Pacific average is 30 per cent.

'Hong Kong has the lowest result. I think what we are seeing is that the days of the benevolent dictator - the boss as a figure of awe - have gone now and Hong Kong employees are questioning their leaders, and you can't take trust for senior leaders for granted any more,' Ms Domicelj said.

Senior managers needed to take this seriously and start spending more time with employees to build up trust levels, she added.

She interpreted this dislike of elusive bosses as a desire for a more informal, western style of management. 'What we're seeing here is younger employees are more negative in this area. They want more access to senior management, the western approach of an open door to managers is just not here yet, and people want that.'

The survey found that Hong Kong companies have undergone massive changes in the past year, ranging from downsizing to restructuring, with 87 per cent of employees reporting change in their organisation.

When asked how well their leaders were equipped to make and manage the necessary changes, responses were weak. When asked how well the changes were implemented, only 19 per cent responded positively.

'There has been a very high rate of change in the workplace. However, our senior leaders are not well skilled in managing those changes, so there is a skill gap, a deficiency,' Ms Domicelj said.

Related to this was a question about whether their company conducted its own internal opinion surveys, to which 36 per cent said yes. The answer to the question about whether any positive change resulted from the survey was the worst of all, with only 11 per cent positive.

'So there's a major theme of change, but it's the wrong change from an employee perspective. We're seeing employees wanting to give feedback to managers, and wanting management to take it seriously, and make changes in the work place, but that follow-through just hasn't happened,' Ms Domicelj said.

The idea of getting feedback from the workplace seemed to be new to Hong Kong, she added, with only one in three firms doing it in a formal sense.

'We've shown there is little point in running a survey if you don't take it seriously. That's worse than not doing it. If employees take the time to do it, it's because they want to be heard,' she said, adding that there was a clear need for better change-management expertise.

When it comes to talent management, once again Hong Kong's leaders appeared lacking in skills enough to attract, develop and retain highly qualified employees, with 41 per cent saying their company did not do a good job of keeping good people.

Only 20 per cent agreed their managers were good motivators, as against the Asia-Pacific average of 40 per cent.

'What's relevant here is we have leaders who are elusive, as opposed to being proactive role models. They are aloof instead of getting to know people,' Ms Domicelj said.

The survey found only 21 per cent were happy with their compensation, and employees wanted more than money, Ms Domicelj said.

'Employers have to show a better interest in their talented employees and put effort into helping them make good career moves. It's not just a [human resources] problem - all managers need to get involved.'

Decision making is another area where Hong Kong bosses perform dismally, with only one in four employees saying they make decisions in a timely manner. This means staff cannot get on with their work. And then only 22 per cent agreed their managers encouraged employee involvement in the decision making.

Nor surprisingly, management views its performance in this area more positively than non-management, and younger workers emerge as less satisfied than older ones.

Also, according to Ms Domicelj, foreign firms scored better than local ones on leadership effectiveness, with 24 per cent of local companies responding favourably overall, as against 35 per cent for foreign companies.

Ms Domicelj said the results were lower than she had expected, particularly in the area of trust. She said she would have expected a high rating for honesty and integrity in Asia, but was surprised at the low levels in the region.