Mr. Shangkong

It's the end of the year and battle for talent begins again

As headhunters pitch for new staff their task may be complicated by the recovery of the West and fewer worries over a mainland economic crash

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 1:27am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 December, 2013, 1:39am


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It's the end of the year again, and a time when some human resources managers may get nervous about one thing - how to keep their staff.

On the last Friday of 2013 several friends working for state-owned banks and securities firms in Hong Kong happily reported to me that they received their "double salaries" as their year-end bonuses.

Some were still waiting for something called an "annual bonus", which is different from a "year-end bonus". Others already felt they were free to go looking for better opportunities.

Fair pay is the basic respect any fair employer can offer for its employee’s contribution

Year-end "double salaries" are a local tradition with Chinese employers. Staff at Western banks may have to wait for a bit longer - until March or April - to receive their "annual bonus" when these banks are ready to report their 2013 financial results.

But headhunters won't wait until then to pitch for new talent because many banks have a so-called three-month-long period of "gardening leave" for mid- and senior-level bankers or at least standard advance notice of one month for more junior staff who want to quit as they head to their next jobs.

December and January are usually the two busiest months of the year for headhunters to pitch for talent, or in other words, for human resource managers (and other department heads) to defend their army of employees.

This year, such efforts could be even harder, partly thanks to the decent and stable recovery of Western economies since the 2008 financial crisis as well as fewer worries over a mainland economic crash.

Last week, Beijing promised that the mainland's annual economic growth would reach 7.6 per cent this year, enabling the economy to maintain momentum into 2014. Good economic growth means good job prospects.

Here are some tips from my headhunter friends if you are considering a job change and want to negotiate with your next employer for better benefits.

If your next job cannot give you at least a 10 per cent rise in salary, it doesn't make sense to move on from a financial perspective.

Money is not everything but it does mean something. Money means respect. Fair pay is the basic respect that any fair employer can offer for its employee's contribution, especially in big cities like Hong Kong and Shanghai where we all know how high living costs are. If you can't live comfortably, how can you work comfortably?

So when you go for the higher-level job, there's no reason why you should not ask for a far higher payroll. It could be up to a 50 per cent pay rise for a higher-level position in a new company.

For our "defenders" - usually department heads and human resources managers - every year-end is time for battle. As your can learn from Sun Tzu's The Art of War, to know one's own strength and the enemy's is the sure way to victory, and such a strategy certainly applies to keeping your staff.

Perhaps an encouraging early-stage talk with some of the talented employees who may be targets for your rivals may help?

It's better than a last-stage meeting where you may only be forced to talk about a counter-offer which usually doesn't work.


George Chen is the Post's financial services editor. Mr. Shangkong appears every Monday in the print version of the SCMP. Like it? Visit