Employee training has its own rewards
Hong Kong employees rate the training and development they receive at work the third-worst category of the 10 assessed in the Watson Wyatt report. Others include performance management, compensation and benefits, job satisfaction and supervision.
Only 32 per cent are satisfied with their training and development, which puts the Hong Kong result 13 per cent below the Asia-Pacific average and 14 points below China's. Only leadership management, at 28 per cent approval, and compensation and benefits, at 21 per cent, are rated worse.
The issue is not just development and training but promotion and career management, explains Gabriela Domicelj, principal consultant at Watson Wyatt.
The highest level of dissatisfaction was related to opportunities for promotion, with only 27 per cent of employees favourable, compared with 40 per cent for both Asia-Pacific and China.
'In Hong Kong, 37 per cent were actually negative - that's extreme. What we see here is that people have short-term tactics to get their next pay rise and title, rather than a long-term strategy to develop their career,' Ms Domicelj said.
'There is a hunger for job titles as opposed to a thirst for knowledge here. It's more extreme in Hong Kong, definitely.'
Meanwhile, only 31 per cent of employees said they received fair consideration for promotion, equalling the number of those who said they got insufficient consideration.
'That means only one in three believes there is a fair promotion process,' Ms Domicelj says.
'Promotion policy should be more transparent,' wrote one respondent. 'The requirement of job rotation before promotion should not be compulsory. This affects team spirit and productivity.'
This shows workers want a fair policy and don't want to be forced to rotate around jobs without promotion, Ms Domicelj says.
Another respondent had a stinging comment about transparency: 'The top management should not hire or promote their friends or their friend's wife. These connected persons often cover up their disability by stealing the subordinates' efforts and passing the buck.'
This extreme language reflects the level of dissatisfaction, Ms Domicelj says.
'The theme here is around the process - it's not what you know, but who you know. And we got a lot of comments about this directly typed in.'
Evidence that employees are demoralised and not satisfied with the way promotions are handled is added to by Hong Kong's escalating staff turnover, now running at 15 per cent.
'Hong Kong employees want transparency in how promotions are planned and they want internal career paths for making their jobs more interesting or extending them,' Ms Domicelj says.
Replies to the same question about advancement opportunities showed that at 34 per cent, employees of foreign companies were happier than those at local companies whose favourable rating was just 23 per cent.
'So perhaps foreign companies are doing a better job at explaining available career opportunities,' Ms Domicelj says.
This means having good people management skills, sitting people down and talking about their performance and their internal career possibilities. 'When that is not done well, the trend is that people change job every time they want to change their responsibility.'
When it came to lateral transfers and extending employees' skills within their current jobs, only 22 per cent said these opportunities were available to them; one in three said otherwise. And with 31 per cent of employees favourable, non-management were noticeably less happy than the 40 per cent of managers who responded positively.
The gap between managers and non-managers grew when it came to knowing the skills they needed to succeed in their jobs. Sixty-seven per cent of bosses said they knew their jobs' skill requirements, while only 54 of non-management did - 15 per cent below the regional norm.
When it came to getting the training they needed, 47 per cent of management said they did, compared with 42 per cent of non-management staff.
'So there's a gap between 'I understand what skills I need' versus 'I can get the necessary training',' Ms Domicelj says. 'The underlying comment is that managers don't feel they have access to the right training to build skills, probably non-technical skills like people management and leadership ability and there is little formal training in those areas.'
Hong Kong employees are acutely aware of how others perceive them, making job title and salary key priorities. 'It's about image and being seen to proceed regularly in your career,' Ms Domicelj says.
Often this obsession with keeping up with peers is at the expense of fully mastering current jobs. This makes for job-hopping every 12 months in pursuit of a better title and more money, compared with moves every three to four years in western countries.
'You have to surmise they have not really had [enough] time in the job to truly master it,' Ms Domicelj says.
Even longer-term employees reach a point of dissatisfaction with poor career advancement. New employees usually get induction training, but often, that is the only training they get, and after five to 10 years, they want more choices.
'If you look at turnover figures, it's that gap at five to 10 years where people leave, they are the group feeling least appreciated. From a pragmatic point of view, employers have invested in those people and probably want to keep them, so there is an irony there,' Ms Domicelj says.
The challenge for human resources is to break that mindset and show that truly mastering a job and not just looking for promotion is good for personal growth and equips workers for future leadership roles.
'Otherwise, they become jacks of all trades and master of none,' Ms Domicelj says.
Promoting people beyond their abilities makes them highly stressed. Japan, an extreme example of this, now has legislation that forces companies bigger than a certain size to have an on-site doctor to deal with workplace stress.
'We are headed that way too, which is an unfortunate statement,' Ms Domicelj says.
'Instead of promoting people into jobs that they are not able to do, why not create more ranks to increase advancement opportunities? Although it would mean smaller salary increases, it would offer more chances for recognition and increased self-esteem.'