Asia is home to some of the most innovative, progressive and fastest-growing economies in the world. In the past decade, several organizations have rapidly expanded their footprint across the continent and started local operations. Global companies looking to hire and retain Asian talent often struggle to comprehend the different culture, aspirations, and motivation of the Asian workforce. As a result, they fail to adapt their existing management and people practices to suit the demand. In order to cultivate an engaged workforce in Asia, employers need to pay closer attention to the changing local norms, societal structures, traditions, and evolving aspirations of the country. Let us make an attempt to identify the motivational drivers for employees in different APAC nations and chart the recent progress made by organizations in engaging their Asian workforce.
What do employees in Asia want from their workplace?
A survey by Rakuten AIP, an online research company, concluded that motivations across the APAC region differed vastly according to the country. The survey quizzed employees from nine major economies in Asia and found that while career development and a higher salary were the top motivators in China, India, and Malaysia, those in Taiwan and Vietnam preferred ‘a nice workplace environment’. The results of the survey also showed that the answers varied by gender, as women were much more likely to care about the team relationship, workplace culture, and the commute to and from the office than men. Overall, the survey found that a higher salary, opportunities for skill development, healthy workplace environment were some of the top motivators for the Asian workforce.
Confirming the importance of individual skills, career development, flexibility, and recognition, another study by the recruitment firm PERSOLKELLY found that employees in India, Indonesia, and Thailand deeply value individuality in their workplace, whereas for those in Malaysia, Australia and Hong Kong, it wasn’t a top priority. The biggest reasons why employees want their individuality to be recognized in their place of work are the individual skills and talent they bring to the table (69 percent) and the desire to be rewarded for personal contributions and achievements (60 percent). The same study also showed that having managers who understand what motivates their team members allows them to tailor their work experiences effectively. Experts also agree that flexibility in work and career progression are critical factors that motivate employees in the APAC region.
How motivated is the Asian workforce?
Since the turn of the decade, engagement and motivation levels in the APAC region have become stagnant. Traditionally, Asian employees have tailed their western counterparts in actively engaging with their work and displaying high motivation levels. A 2016 Willis Towers Watson study showed that less than 40 percent of the APAC employees were ‘highly engaged’ and more than 25 percent were disengaged.
However, things have been improving in the last couple of years. AON’s 2018 Global Employee Engagement Trends Report which surveyed more than 8 million employees worldwide found that workforce engagement levels in the APAC region were at 65 percent (a rise of 3 percent from 2016). While India, China, and Japan witnessed a rise of two percent each; Thailand, Australia, and South Korea recorded a decline of 1 percent during the same period. The overall increase in Asia was attributed to high economic growth and stability in the region, which in turn resulted in the companies investing more on their employees and their work experiences. Specifically, those involved in the people profession – HR, recruitment, and talent domains – said that their work made them happy and energized. Overall, 82 percent of the respondents stated that their work offers a meaningful career, according to ‘The People Profession in 2018’ survey by CIPD.
Thus, Asian workers are increasingly displaying an individualistic approach towards their careers and organizations need to identify this trend. In order to attract and engage the best talent in Asian nations, companies will have to hone their employer brand and offer a unique employee value proposition. Furthermore, increasing communication with employees, investing in employee development, creating a healthy workplace environment, providing career progression support and opportunities, enhancing workplace flexibility are some of the ways in which leaders and employers can cultivate a highly engaged and motivated workforce. The progress made in the last few years goes on to show that companies need to understand what their employees want and work alongside them to help achieve a holistic workplace experience and hit the business bottom-line as well.