To shed light on the alarming trend of job quitting among local employees, the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management (HKIHRM) in partnership with JobsDB Hong Kong undertook a study entitled: Great Resignation – The Contrasting Perspectives of Employers and Employees, to inspire HR teams to develop proactive measures to attract, re-engage and retain talents.
It was found that while traditional levers including pay rise and promotion remain useful for staff retention, non-traditional levers, such as flexible work arrangements, work-life balance are gaining traction and worthy of inclusion in the overall HR strategy.
Since the eye-catching term “great resignation” was first used by the US organisational psychologist and scholar Anthony Klotz in a media interview in early 2021 to describe his bold prediction about employees quitting their jobs in droves in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple studies have shown that companies around the world including those in Hong Kong have experienced higher-than-normal staff attrition rates.
The staggering upsurge in employee resignations in local organisations over the past year prompted HKIHRM and JobsDB Hong Kong to jointly conduct a study entitled: “Great Resignation – The Contrasting Perspectives of Employers and Employees” to help unravel this phenomenon and explore what the HR function can do to deal with a soaring staff turnover. Involving both HR practitioners and employees, the joint study aimed to achieve three primary objectives, namely, identifying the major factors that motivate employees to leave or stay in their jobs, gauging the extent to which employers understand why their employees choose to change jobs, and finding out the types of roles in shortage and the skill sets most sought after.
Introducing the joint study’s key findings to the participants in HKIHRM’s Pay Trend and Benefits Seminar that took place on 20 October, Andy Luk, Vice President of HKIHRM, noted that the data was collected through on-line surveys conducted between August and September 2022 among 151 HR practitioners and 636 employees. “With 43% of the employee respondents claiming they had changed jobs once or more during the 12 months preceding the survey and 63% of the responding organisations reporting a higher staff turnover in 2022 than a year before,” he reckoned, “not surprisingly, labour shortages, talent retention and staff engagement were among the top challenges faced by organisations and HR practitioners.” He added that these challenges are not likely to go away anytime soon as more than 40% of the organisations expected staff turnover to continue to increase in the coming year. In fact, as many as 69% of the surveyed employees said they might look for another job in the next 12 months.
What motivates employees to change jobs
When it comes to the factors that motivate employees to quit or stay around, most surveyed employees cited “salary levels”, “career prospects”, “supervisors’ management skills”, and “work-life balance” as their main considerations.
37% and 24% of the surveyed employers think that emigration was becoming one of the crucial attrition factors for respectively the senior and junior employees who had left their organisation during the year before the survey.
Skills in demand
The people outflow issue is reflected in recent government statistics, which show that over the past two years the size of Hong Kong’s working population reduced by a striking number of 140,000 employees. Amidst this massive people exodus, it was inevitable that a vast majority of the surveyed HR practitioners found it hard to fill vacancies.
While finding suitable candidates for IT and digital-related job roles were most difficult because of the acute imbalance between supply and demand of talents in these fields, the skill sets most desired by employers as identified in the survey were communication, change management and people management.
Strategies to cope with talent shortages
Speaking on the strategies that HR teams may adopt to help their organisations tackle talent shortages and a high staff turnover, Luk remarked that while most employees still consider traditional levers, such as ‘pay rise’, ‘job promotion’ and ‘more recognition by seniors’, to be important for staff retention, HR practitioners should try out other non-traditional methods. “For instance, flexible work arrangements and family-friendly measures are worthy of consideration as we are seeing more employees attach importance to work-life balance,” he suggested.
Luk also encouraged organisations to cast a wider net and make better use of alternative talent sources, including but not limited to former employees, retirees, freelancers as well as talents with less work experience. “At a time when Hong Kong’s manpower gaps are widening, organisations that can effectively capitalise on these alternative talent pools will definitely gain an advantage,” he said.
Expert views on employee engagement and staff retention
During the discussion session moderated by Luk, the panellists delved into tactics to address staff attrition, including practical ways to improve employee engagement in support of recruitment and retention of capable talents.
Stressing the importance for organisations to foster a workplace culture that creates a positive employee experience, Daryl Lau, Sales Director, JobsDB Hong Kong, observed that the current wave of employee attrition affected not only private companies, but also many public organisations which used to have a relatively low staff turnover. Lau also noticed that many business entities which faced talent shortages were hastening digital transformation and becoming more interested in using e-learning solutions to upskill and reskill their staff in minimising any skill gaps.
Referring to the transparency policy of his company, Brian Sy, Group Head of Reward & Operations, People & Culture, WeLab, said making potential employees and fresh graduates aware of the company’s philosophy, beliefs, and corporate culture could facilitate recruitment of the right talents. On strengthening employee engagement, he shared the experience of his company in hosting weekly townhall meetings, which by bringing its people and teams together to share news, talk business and build rapports, had succeeded in enhancing communication among employees and creating good vibes to reinforce the corporate culture.
Hayly Leung, Executive Committee Member & Chairman of Member Communication Subcommittee of The Hong Kong Retirement Schemes Association, who supported the notion of creating a positive employee experience, said it’s high time for companies to seriously consider reforming their approach to provision of staff benefits to make it more personalised by taking into account the life stage of individual employees. She explained that for older staff, generous health insurance packages would be generally accepted as attractive perks; however, it might not be the case for younger employees, who might instead prefer to have more vacation leave days or flexible work arrangements that allow work-life balance. She believed that when designing employee benefit plans, organisations should be careful to ensure they can deliver real value to employees. Where appropriate, a certain degree of freedom should be provided for employees to choose the benefits that best suit their individual needs.
1. High attrition is likely to stay as employees are willing to quit even without a job lined up.
2. Traditional levers such as pay rise and promotion are still deal breakers.
3. Non-traditional levers, including flexibility work arrangements and work-life balance, are gaining traction and worth investing in.
4. It is desirable to regularly review employee value proposition on traditional levers, including but not limited to compensation and benefits packages, career paths, and job titles.
5. When pursuing prospective talents, organisations may try to develop personalised value proposition, where appropriate.
6. Casting your net wider to tap into alternative talent pools can pay off.