What really matters to workers in Asia, especially in a slowing economy

Andrew Chung says perks and flexibility are important to employees in today’s modern business environment, especially amid pessimism about the global economy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 November, 2016, 12:04pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 November, 2016, 7:04pm

Asia accounts for about 40 per cent of the world’s output. But with the global economic slowdown, the region is facing fresh – and difficult – challenges.

So how can companies in the region thrive, despite the difficult market conditions? One way is to break the mould.

The global economy poses a great challenge to companies and their employees. People are scared that, even though Asia is thriving, the global slowdown will hit the region. According to a recent Asia-wide survey we conducted in August, employees of nearly every economy surveyed cited the global economic slowdown as their biggest challenge.

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The slowdown threat is real. In fact, a new PwC survey found that only 73 per cent of Chinese family businesses recorded sales growth in 2016.

There’s only more uncertainty ahead. With the election of Donald Trump as US president, the Asian markets plummeted. China’s economy is cooling, and showing little signs of revving up again.

And, of course, Brexit put the nail on the coffin for European markets.

Business will be more and more cautious with their investments as conditions get tougher. And one thing they’ll need to work on is rallying employee optimism. Our survey of 1,200 workers across the Asia-Pacific, Compass Index, found a minority of employees were actually optimistic about their futures in their companies.

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In Hong Kong, fewer than half of the employees surveyed were expecting a pay rise in the year to come. This hints at a general uncertainty in Hong Kong companies, and organisations here should consider creating a happier environment for their employees. Meanwhile, in Singapore, not even a fifth of the respondents said they were optimistic they’d get a pay rise in the next year. Compared to the other economies in Asia we surveyed, that was quite low.

Companies should keep in mind that boosting optimism would create a better workplace, with more employee retention, in the long run.

Of course, to do so, pay packages and promotions shouldn’t be ignored. Take Singapore. For respondents there, knowing a promotion is on the horizon is important.

However, it’s notable that more employees are now placing their work environment before their remuneration packages. This is what we found, too, in our survey.

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One trend is that major companies all over the world – not just in Asia – are becoming more flexible by using shared office spaces. HSBC, GE, KPMG, and The Guardian all have embraced more flexible office spaces.

Our survey also found that employees are now placing workplace perks before their remuneration packages. Such benefits energise younger employees, especially, about coming to work.

Employees also said they enjoyed having access to mentorship and getting advice from experts.

It’s important to look at exactly what makes employees tick. In Hong Kong, for example, 40 per cent of the employees we surveyed said that after easy access to transport, easy access to good food and lunch was the most attractive perk of the job.

This shows more than anything that, as we move into an ever more modern setting for business, employees place huge emphasis on flexibility and enjoyment at work – access to good lunch places, quality coffee, and even communal space and hot desks.

Amid a global slowdown, it’s a tricky road ahead for companies, big and small. But nothing is insurmountable.

Andrew Chung is CEO of Compass Offices