Talent Management: When Your People Threaten to Leave

“That is relatively high and raises some concerns for me,” says Gary Man, the Hong Kong-based Finance Director, Asia Pacific, of Hitachi Data Systems. He was reacting to a recently released survey by recruitment and HR company Randstad, which found that 58% of 340 employees surveyed in Hong Kong plan to change jobs in the next 12 months.
Indeed, 52% of the 540 business leaders interviewed in Hong Kong flagged talent retention as a significant worry. “Generally speaking, employees are unhappy,” reckons Robert Lamb, Director of Client Solutions at Randstad’s Hong Kong office. “They are not satisfied with their career path, not satisfied with the leadership of the employer.”
It’s not just Hong Kong. Nearly six out of ten of employees across Asia Pacific will also change jobs – that’s 58% of 4,500 employees in Australia, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and New Zealand. Of this number, 39% told Randstad they will leave because they do not see opportunity for growth and advancement. Only 18% will go because of what they consider as uncompetitive salary. 
Unhappy Employees
That’s one of the key findings of the report. When our researchers talked to employers about retention, most say that they just pay people more,” says Lamb. “Many clients also tell me that ‘Hong Kong people are so money-driven.’ Well, this [research] tells us that they are wrong. Employees are not leaving [just] because of their salaries.”
In Hong Kong, 46% of the surveyed employees plan to leave over the issue of career advancement, higher than the 39% who cite the same reason in Asia in general. Hitachi’s Man is sympathetic. “I’m an employee as well and that is what I’m looking for,” he says. “We work hard and we want to have a good career path in a good company.” (Don’t worry, Hitachi, he’s not planning to leave).
In Asia in general, only 11% of the employees surveyed say they are motivated by money in their work life. Instead, they claim that being valued and recognised for their achievements (30%) and being told how they contribute to the company reaching its goals (24%) are more important motivators.
When asked what attributes they look for in a new employer, 60% point to the workplace culture while 59% cite inspirational leadership. Fewer employees – 32% – are motivated by career advancement; even fewer, 25%, say they will change jobs because of the money.       
As Hong Kong employee Vivian Cheung, who recently quit her job, puts it: “No one wants to work for a boss who does not know how to motivate you to work better. I could not learn anything from her. She couldn’t decide on assignments properly. Sometimes, she even made some of us do the same duplicative work.”
Challenged Employers
Unless they can convince these employees to stay, the challenge for companies would be how to fill the vacancies, particularly for critical posts such as those in finance. But across Asia, only 40% of employers “believe that their ability to attract talent is good,” according to the Randstad research. Another 43% fear that increased mobility among employees will make it even harder to attract and retain talent.
In the longer term, half of Asia’s employers – 51% – are worried about the ageing workforce, which they believe will have a negative impact on their business in the next ten years. They are also concerned about lack of leadership for the next phase of the business’s growth, particularly since 29% see leadership skills as the most critical competitiveness factor five years from now, followed by creative/innovating skills (17%) and business development skills (16%).
What Companies Can Do
How will Asia’s employers address the talent problem? Four out of ten say they will recruit more people on flexible work arrangements. Thirty six percent will hire more temporary/contract workers, while 30% will source talent from abroad.
However, only 32% of the employers surveyed say they’re doing a good job developing and implementing flexible working options, an indication of how much more they need to do to deal with their talent management dilemma.
Ranstadt and other experts, including CFOs themselves, offer many ideas. Among them:
Be clear about what your organisation needs. “We always blame young people who join and quit too fast, but have you ever thought that actually it’s because of you not setting clear expectations of what is required?” asks Keegan.
Randstad recommends assessing the current strategic position of the organisation, including factors such as the size and diversity of the workforce, business goals, long-term plans for expansion or diversification and location-specific circumstances. This task may be given to a project team comprising managers and employees at all levels, particularly those whose functions will be critical to future success. 
Integrate workforce planning into your core strategic planning process, Randstad urges, and make sure there are clear action plans to measure and review progress. Don’t forget to consider the broader political, economic, social and technological environment within five to ten years, such as the number of women in senior roles and outsourcing of business processes.
Know your people’s individual needs and ambitions. “Until you have the information, until you have the knowledge about what your own employees are thinking, it’s difficult to make any change,” says Brien Keegan, Director and General Manager of Randstad Hong Kong.
Man, the Hitachi Asia Pacific CFO, says finance leaders should walk the shop floor and establish rapport with their staff. “You will know their needs through regular communication and the personal touch, which has to be sincere and honest,” he says. “Only if they feel that you care about what they think would they be open.”
And when you know what they want, “give them the freedom, give them the resources so they will do well,” says Leigh Gui, CFO for Greater China, Japan, and Southeast Asia of eBay. However, he draws the line at flexible working, at least for finance. 
“There’s a lot of documentation, regulatory requirements, working with people in finance,” he says. “I just don’t think that you can work effectively by working remotely. You might have some variation on flexibility, but I think you still need to be physically there to complete the job.”
Build a career path for your people. “Some people feel very comfortable and very happy to do the same job; they’re not keen to be promoted,” says Man. “They don’t want change, which will bring them pressure. Others will say, I want a promotion, I want growth. And some may say, I just want more money.” The information should guide managers in creating a career path for their staff.
Training is a key element. The Randstad survey finds that only 28% of the employees surveyed currently receive leadership or career development as an employee benefit. "In periods of slower growth, when it can be hard to meet salary expectations, training and career development is a winning strategy to improve employee satisfaction and reteniotn, while strengthening the leadership pipeline," it argues.
At consumer company Johnson & Johnson, a finance leadership development programme is part and parcel of the talent retention initiative. “In Asia Pacific, we have regular programmes to provide training to those staff that have been in the company for years and have good performance,” says Regional Finance Director Irelan Tam.
Randstad advocates the creation of a “culture of excellence” that focuses on engaging employees in continuous learning and providing incentives for them to improve their skills and qualifications. “This could be through subsidized education, supporting secondments or recognizing employees who gain new skills or qualifications,” says the report.
Know how to manage multi-generation teams. “For the first time in history, four generations with different needs will work alongside each other,” says Keegen, referring to the so-called Gen Y or millennial generation (those born in 1982 and later) joining employees in their 40s, 50s and 60s in the workplace.
“You need to face a generation gap of up to 50 years between the oldest and youngest workers,” he explains. “It’s time to review your policies and procedures to ensure they are inclusive and relevant for contingent or diverse workers – and if necessary, create new policies to accommodate them.”
According to the Randstad report, “the work-styles and preferences of new generations entering the workforce or moving into management roles for the times will also influence talent attraction methods.” Some 37% of the employees surveyed describe themselves as “networkers.”
“Employers need to consider how they can become more ‘networked’ to attract, retain and engage skill knowledge workers,” concludes Randstad. Depending on the organisation, industry and the skilled talent required, the means to achieve that may include stronger employer brands or better use of social media.
“Equip leaders with the skills required to manage innovators, who often have a more maverick style,” Randstad urges. This may not be applicable at first blush to finance, but given the expansion of the CFO’s remit, being an innovator is increasingly important in such areas as financial planning and analysis, forecasting, scenario setting, stress-setting and business partnership.
About the Author

Pearl Liu is Online Editor at CFO Innovation. 


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