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Thanks to mobile technology, workers are still connected to the office once they get home. Photo: Handout

When Hongkongers prioritise work-life balance over a pay rise, employers must adapt

Trevor Yu says that as technology destabilises the workplace and employees’ free time diminishes, employers who take the initiative in training, plus ensuring job satisfaction and flexible work hours, will have the advantage

Trevor Yu
In our increasingly fractured world, where change is constant, the corporate workplace – a microcosm of civil society and the economy – is undergoing disruptive change, from day-to-day bus iness to how employees interact and what encourages workforce productivity.
In Hong Kong’s already fast-paced, demanding working environment, the lines between work and private life are blurring to a new extreme as technology better connects employees, making them “always-on” through their mobiles and other devices. As a result, there’s a new finite commodity in demand: personal time.

While an attractive salary package may have been how to retain and motivate talent until recently, it is no longer as high on a prospect’s list of considerations. Today, even a flight – traditionally an email-free sanctuary for travelling executives – is no longer free of work’s daily pressures.

According to the 2017 Robert Half Salary Guide, many Hong Kong employees now regard work-life balance as more attractive than higher pay. Some four in 10 Hong Kong workers surveyed are willing to accept less pay in exchange for flexible working hours (42 per cent), or prefer the option of working from home over a salary increase (39 per cent).

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Flexibility in the workplace has become increasingly important, as it contributes to a satisfied, motivated, productive and loyal workforce. Teams expect to collaborate across time and space, and companies have begun incorporating automation and artificial intelligence into their workflows to optimise this connected, yet physically disconnected, approach to business.

We now also have a labour market characterised by shorter-term, more varied work that is unpredictable and devoid of boundaries. These conditions combine to shift the responsibility for managing careers from the employer towards the individual. The old days of clear career trajectories and stable employment are over.

As a new set of career aspirations emerge, along with innovative work-enablers and greater diversity among employees, we need to think about a new model where everyone receives equal opportunity to adapt and succeed.

New workplace technology, including facial recognition, automation and robotics will continue to change how people work. Photo: Reuters

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Employers must be flexible, offering greater choice and customisation. For example, individuals should be adequately supported (and encouraged) in the choices they make towards their personal growth – be it building deeper knowledge and skills, climbing the proverbial corporate ladder or focusing on innovation by heading new enterprises or initiatives. Employers will face significant challenges in attracting and securing future talent should they fail to understand that their employees increasingly want work to be a part of who they are – not just a way to make a living – that their biggest fear is not finding a job that matches their personality and that they need inspiring leadership.

We need to negotiate a new social contract in the workforce, one that prioritises lifelong learning and retraining for both employee and employer. And for this new social contract to achieve its purpose, both employer and employee must recognise what their new roles entail.

Instead of waiting for the next promotion, employees now expect to actively seek out opportunities to develop, renew and enhance their ability to adapt to the challenges posed by constant change in the economy. This is only possible with the support of governments and companies coming together to provide ample learning tools and platforms, combined with proactivity from employees to voice their suggestions.

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The days of one-sided employer-driven approaches to career management are over. Preparing Hong Kong’s global workforce for the uncertain challenges ahead is now a shared responsibility between individuals and their employers.

Individuals have to be more proactive, strategic and entrepreneurial in choosing how to invest their time and resources to achieve career goals. But this new social contract, which will ultimately create a shared future despite the fractured society we face today – starts from within the company.

Trevor Yu is an associate professor in the Division of Strategy, Management & Organisation at Nanyang Business School, Nanyang Technological University