HONG KONG STILL ranks a poor 20th on the employee happiness scale despite a continuing improvement in local wages and employment prospects, according to a survey covering 70,000 workers in 28 countries. The Kelly Global Workforce Index also shows that Hong Kong employers did just marginally better; their performance ranking was 19th based on assessment by 307 employees canvassed from June to September last year. Tracey Batty, the Hong Kong country manager of Kelly Services, which conducted the survey, said the findings suggested that employers needed to improve human resources management and care more about staff needs or they might face serious problems retaining talent in an increasingly unstable labour market. 'The survey results suggest that many organisations could do better at developing workplace practices that keep their employees engaged and motivated,' Ms Batty said. 'Hong Kong bosses could also be doing a better job, according to the assessment of their employees. 'If we look at what employees say is important to them, they want a workplace with good morale, stimulating work, a degree of autonomy and one where they receive feedback from their bosses. Organisations that don't address these issues directly may suffer high staff turnover, absenteeism, poor morale, low productivity and a poor reputation.' Ms Batty said that although Hong Kong employers showed a strong readiness to compensate staff with money, it took more than this to retain quality employees and maintain a happy workplace. She said an important issue that Hong Kong and Asian companies needed to address was the rife existence of a mismatch created by their heavier investment in production compared with human resources planning during the economic downturn triggered by the Sars outbreak. 'Now that the economy is buoyant again, the topic of retaining and retraining talent is key in Asia. Hong Kong needs to rebalance our focus to bridge this gap,' she said. 'With regard to retention, we tend to go to money first, and Hong Kong is very responsive in this respect. But it's important to try to find out what makes a contented and motivated workforce because employees who enjoy their work will make a more effective contribution to the performance of an organisation. Simply taking the time to tell someone when they've done a good job or provide some constructive feedback can make a big difference. 'The best employers understand this and provide people with interesting and challenging work and opportunities to learn and more fully develop their skills.' The survey covered four, eight and 16 countries/regions in North America, the Asia-Pacific and Europe, respectively. In Hong Kong, 56 per cent of employees said they were either happy or very happy about their position at work, while 15 per cent were either unhappy or very unhappy. The three places that top the 'happy/very happy' chart are Denmark (74 per cent), Sweden and Mexico (both 71 per cent). The lowest ranking ones are Hungary (44 per cent), Russia (48 per cent) and Turkey (49 per cent). Those with the lowest percentages of employees feeling unhappy or very unhappy are Indonesia (3 per cent), India (9 per cent) and Thailand and Denmark (both 11 per cent). Those with the highest percentages of disgruntled employees are Luxembourg (36 per cent), Italy (30 per cent) and Belgium (27 per cent). For employer performance - which was rated by employees according to communication skills, leadership, team spirit and delegation of work - bosses in Mexico, the United States and Canada did best with average scores of 7.6, 7.3 and 7.2, respectively, out of a full mark of 10. Those in Hong Kong, Denmark, Hungary and Luxemburg scored 6.4, while employers in Sweden (6.1), France, Germany, Italy and Turkey (all 6.2) did worst on average. Of the Asia-Pacific regions surveyed, only Hong Kong, Malaysia (6.6) and Singapore (6.5) scored less than seven. Overall, employees felt that their bosses were best at delegating work but weakest in leadership. 'The world's employees gave an average score of 6.7 out of 10 for their bosses. Although a relatively positive rating, this suggests that globally there is considerable room for improvement in management-employee relations,' Ms Batty said. 'Employees want leaders they can respect and relate to. Weak leadership skills result in a loss of direction and poor employee relations. This directly affects overall productivity and business growth.' While acknowledging that the survey's findings could be interpreted from different perspectives such as culture and social behaviour, Ms Batty said that from the standpoint of human resources, the fact that employees in many of the western economies surveyed were relatively happier than those in Asia suggested that it was important for employers to adequately invest in the people aspects of their business. 'In many western markets, they've had the challenge of talent shortfalls for quite a while now and many companies have tried to address this problem by putting staff wellness measures in place,' she said. 'But in Asia, because of Sars, not many companies have been investing in training and human resources planning. People are beginning to do so because the market is volatile and Hong Kong is coming back to very strategic views in how firms look after their staff. This can be seen from the strong demand for training and human resources professionals in the job market now.' But the responsibility for creating a happy workplace did not just rest with employers. By choosing jobs prudently and treating each job responsibly, employees could contribute to creating a good workplace environment and avoid becoming a workplace misfit themselves, Ms Batty said. 'Employees need to take responsibility for their careers and CVs. They need to know that progressive companies are not hiring people with jumpy CVs,' she said.