Does Hong Kong have an engagement problem?

Author: PM editorial | Date: 06 Oct 2015

Alarm raised over new survey suggesting most employees are unhappy at work

More than six in 10 employees in Hong Kong are unhappy at work and almost half plan to change jobs in the next 12 months, according to a survey by a job-seeking website. interviewed 2,398 Hong Kong workers between May and June this year and found the top three factors making people unhappy were salary (49 per cent), the working environment and culture (46 per cent) and the relationship with colleagues or managers (45 per cent).
Interestingly, although salary was found to be the most likely unhappiness trigger, it didn’t top the list of factors making people happy at work. Instead, quality of relationships with colleagues and bosses (63 per cent) was most important, with salary coming in second (54 per cent).
Many in Hong Kong believe this points to an engagement problem. Bianca Wong, group human resources and corporate communications director at Jebsen & Co, says the dynamic job market means more employees are eyeing more attractive options outside their company.
“I certainly find that it is increasingly more challenging to keep employees engaged in Hong Kong because of the diverse needs of staff, from traditional pay and benefits to a variety of factors such as relationships, work-life balance, development opportunities and job satisfaction,” says Wong.
Professor Randy Chiu, director of the Centre for Human Resources at Hong Kong Baptist University, is equally unsurprised by the survey findings.
“For the past 10 years, Hong Kong workers have been known to be unhappy, with low morale, and jumpy because of long hours and work pressure. But the engagement issue doesn’t mean poor productivity,” he says, explaining that even if workers don’t feel committed to the company, a strong work ethic means they will still work hard.
The survey also polled employees in Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand, with 7,278 interviewed in total. Compared with those in other countries, Hong Kong employees fared worst, with 62 per cent unhappy at work compared to 49 per cent in Singapore. But Hong Kongers were least likely to seek a new employer.
While the Hong Kong result isn’t inspiring, Robbie Knight, regional practice managing partner at Heidrick & Struggles in Hong Kong, says the firm’s recent white paper - “What Your Employees Are Really Saying About You” - reflected a common malaise across the region.
But the survey does offer companies key insights into how they can improve engagement. Justin Yiu, general manager of JobsDB Hong Kong, is keen to highlight that relationships with colleagues and bosses rated higher than salary when it came to happiness.
“We suggest supervisors take the initiative to communicate with subordinates in order to understand the difficulties at work and offer follow-up assistance and develop a clear system of penalties and rewards. Organising recreational activities will also help improve relationships across the company,” says Yiu.
He also underlines the need for companies to build a good brand image and get across the culture and working environment to jobseekers if they want to attract and keep good talent.
“Transparency of remuneration, corporate culture and prospects for promotion should be communicated to candidates clearly before and during interviews. This avoids displeasure and unhappiness after entry due to a lack of understanding,” he says.
Knight says Heidrick & Struggles’ recent survey also found that a good brand image was a big draw when it came to attracting staff.
“People like to work for a recognised, employer-branded company, with 95 per cent of senior executives believing it to be important,” says Knight.