Hongkongers quitting Chinese companies blame rigid office culture and low salary, survey shows

  • Hongkongers find most decisions made in the head office in China
  • ‘The atmosphere became so stiff once the boss stepped into the room, which made me feel uncomfortable,’ said one Hongkonger who quit a China employer
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 December, 2018, 11:32am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 December, 2018, 1:17pm

About 70 per cent of Hongkongers who quit a China-headquartered company blame the office culture and low salaries, according to a study published by recruitment firm Michael Page.

Many Chinese companies are entering Hong Kong as a gateway to tap into the global market. But 44 per cent of them struggle to retain talent in the former British colony, according to the survey polling 2,998 Chinese firms and employees who previously worked in such companies from different industries in September this year.

“These Chinese companies have a lot of money, and they came to Hong Kong to make big plans. Locals took up the roles and thought they would be part of the big change, but they would soon realise that most decisions were only made in the head office in China,” said John Mullally, the director of Hong Kong Financial Services and Shenzhen from Robert Walters.

Chinese companies are also more traditional with more power difference between the chief executive and the rest of the staff. This may shock some of the Hongkongers who used to work in British companies with a more liberal management style, he added.

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One of the top reasons Hongkongers say they want to join a Chinese company is for a top salary. But in the end, they often agreed to a salary that was less than what they expected. Of the quitting employees, 67 per cent cited a lower salary than they had expected.

“These companies have the habit of putting candidates through a long recruitment process and design it in a way that candidates would be so caught into the opportunities and keen to join the company that they could end up paying less than what the candidates asked for,” Mullally said.

Calvin Lam, a 22-year-old Hong Kong local, quit his job as a management trainee in a Chinese bank after experiencing two months of rigid office culture and moved to a British financial service provider.

“The atmosphere became so stiff once the boss stepped into the room, which made me feel uncomfortable. And because most of the business was referred from the headquarters in China, we didn’t really have a say in many things and had to do whatever the head office told us,” Lam said.

The base salary of a management trainee in a Chinese bank in Hong Kong is 33 per cent lower than that of a European bank, although Chinese banks may offer higher bonuses than foreign peers, he added.

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But these problems only apply to some Chinese companies, as there are also good companies such as Alibaba and Tencent that are comparable to international firms, Mullally added. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

From the companies’ perspective, it is reasonable that Chinese firms will want more control over their business directions when they first enter a new region, said Daniel Lau, the senior consultant from recruiter Silverstrand Executive Search Limited.

“Some second and third-tier companies may offer lower salaries when they first get established in the city, but they will soon catch up with the market rate and offer better compensations, as proven by some of the first-tier companies who have been in Hong Kong for years”, he added.

The situation was even more serious five years ago, but Chinese companies have been improving in recent years as they learn the Hong Kong culture, Lau said.

He is confident that Chinese firms will overcome the challenges in hiring and retaining talent and continue to play a bigger part in the Hong Kong market compared to international firms.

“Most US and Europeans firms are starting to cut down staff or restructure their Asian offices amid global uncertainties because of the fact that Asian revenue only makes up a little of their overall revenue. But Chinese firms are still aggressive in hunting talents in Hong Kong, as their desire to expand their business outside China is strong,” he said.