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Why leading HR in Asia is a must for your career: HR heads weigh in

Asia has always been a lucrative destination from a commercial point of view, despite its vast complexities and regional variances. For HR leaders as well, Asia offers a number of experiences and opportunities for growth and experimentation.

Recognising this, we find many are keen on ‘ticking’ Asia off their checklist of the world’s best regions to work in. And why not? With the evolution in the function, the HR space in Asia is abuzz with different challenges.

Let’s hear it from these leaders themselves – why working in Asia has been so memorable and important to advancing their HR careers.

Having spent close to six years in Singapore, Renee van der Burg recently returned to the Netherlands. She cites her time as HR leader for NXP Operations as teaching her valuable insights: the ability to pick up your life and start elsewhere from scratch, the exposure to different cultures, the fact that key principles in HR on talent, people engagement, leadership and even compensation and benefits are universal.

But what makes Asia a “not-to-be-missed” experience? “The ever-present sense of urgency, the focus on performance and getting results, the dynamic energy and spirit, the can-do attitude that is so characteristic for the region,” she says, adding these made her a better HR leader.

No discussion on Asia is complete without a check-in with China, and we have the experience of Giorgio Davidoni to count on, vice president, human resources, Lilly China since October 2010. Asia is the third continent he has worked in, and he admits that sometimes Western colleagues ask him: “How is it working with Chinese people?”

Davidoni’s answer always is: “There is no difference. Human beings are human beings everywhere.”

But you need to pay attention to the details, he affirms, explaining with the help of an example: “If an American and a Chinese are thirsty, you know what to do – you need to give them water. To the American however, it is better to give a big glass with ice and water. To the Chinese, a small cup with hot water.”

“So the basic, i.e. water for thirsty people, is the same everywhere in the world, but it is the small details that make a big difference,” he adds.

Apart from this significant advice, Davidoni shares his experience in China has been great, owing to the important of this market for global companies. “Learning to operate in a fast moving economic system has helped me to learn different skills, better understand the ‘small details’ that make the difference. This brings me more opportunities to help local talent grow as world leaders,” he says.

In conversations with business leaders in this part of the world, what seems to hold true is, that to be an effective global leader, having an experience in Asia is a must. London-based Matthew Kimball, presently vice president of HR, at Shell Chemicals, attests to this.

“I have been fortunate to have had a truly international career with three great companies. Accenture, Merck and Shell have provided me with the opportunity to live and work in six different countries across four continents,” he explained.

Citing his time in Asia as pivotal to his development, he says: “Working in Asia both commercially and functionally you are continually confronting assumptions, problems and opportunities which you’ve never encountered before. All of these come at you at a pace of which you haven’t experienced before.” Kimball calls this “working in the grey zone.”

Additionally, Kimball says assumptions about “one Asia” are quickly blown out of the water as you work in the region, supporting all interviewees take on learning cross-cultural leadership. “Over time, you understand the deep cultural, religious and historical differences which underpin ways of working and impact the way we approach commercial opportunities.”

Innovation and new business models thrive in Asia, affirms Kimball. What does this mean for an HR leader’s development? “New differentiated employee value propositions, engaging employees in new ways, rethinking market rewards and benefits, and defining new development paths.”

This article was first published in Human Resources and is reproduced with permission. Original article can be found at

How Ramadan may boost staff productivity and well-being

A recent research by UK-based Oxford Strategic Consulting (OSC) found that changing work models are becoming more hospitable to the Ramadan work schedule.

Rather than worry about the negative effects on business, business leaders should instead focus on improving well-being, increasing engagement and embracing flexible work patterns during the Islamic holy month.

According to the press release, more vacation time can improve performance and well-being. In fact, it shared that an internal study in 2006 by accounting firm Ernst & Young found that employees’ year-end performance ratings from supervisors improved by 8% for each additional 10 hours of vacation employees took

The press release said: “Employees who took vacations more frequently were also significantly less likely to leave the firm, which helped to increase retention rates.”

What might appear a short-term gain in working people beyond the stage where they are being effective can be offset by longer term problems such as staff burn-out, errors, retention and recruitment problems as well as significant diminishing returns in productivity.

On this note, professor William Scott-Jackson, chairman of OSC said: “A great leader helps their team work effectively and happily to make the very most of every hour rather than just put in the hours.”

The report also explained that shorter work hours do not necessarily translate to decreased productivity. For example, when the UK was forced to work a 3-day week due to a miners’ strike in the 1970s; it showed that production fell by only 6%.

According to the research, it noticed a significant fall-off in productivity after 8 hours of working. In fact, the majority of productivity tends to occur between the 2nd and 6th hours of work. Office workers were found to be especially susceptible to deterioration in performance after 6 useful hours of work per day; compared with 8 hours for more manual jobs.

Next, the report shared that shorter work weeks can increase staff happiness and engagement in the long term. Taking the Swedish government’s 30-hour work week for select employees as example, the two-year study found that staff were happier, less stressed and enjoyed work more. However, the only downside was that the scheme proved too expensive for participating employers.

Given the religious and cultural significance of Ramadan, prevailing work norms during the holy month are unlikely to change because of fiscal concerns.

The shorter work weeks during Ramadan may reflect an opportunity for employers to nurture more productive staff by focusing on employee engagement and team commitment in the month’s less urgent and informal environment.

Lastly, the research also showed that greater control over workloads and schedules can boost well-being. In fact, a study by the Birmingham Business School found that employees with more autonomy experienced greater overall well-being and job satisfaction.

On this note, OSC recommends employers to encourage employees to work when and where they will feel comfortable during the month of Ramadan.

It said: “Flexibility is key – team building exercises, meetings and brainstorming workshops can take place around Iftar (the meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan as they break fast) and other social events.”

OSC also suggested to have less essential tasks to be done remotely from home. It highlighted that breaking the monotony of routine helps formulate new ideas within an organisation and also build stronger bonds between employees

“Ramadan does not have to be an unproductive period for businesses. Instead, business leaders can derive value from the Islamic holy month by focusing on improving well-being, increasing engagement and embracing flexibility within the organisation,” it concluded.

This article was first published in Human Resources and is reproduced with permission. Original article can be found at

MOM: Fewer employees in Singapore received wage raises in 2016

In light of the tougher business conditions in 2016, and with a majority of firms having a flexible wage system which adjust wages according to business conditions, fewer employees received wage increases last year as compared to 2015, found the “Report on Wage Practices 2016” released by the Manpower Research and Statistics Department, Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

According to MOM’s report, between the last two years, the proportion of employees who received total wage increase also declined from 77% in 2015 to 75% in 2016.

At the same time, the proportion of profitable firms dipped from 79% (2015) to 76% (2016). This decline in profitable establishments was observed across major industries.

A larger proportion of establishments were found to have which incurred losses (2015: 21%, 2016: 24%). There was also an increase in those which were profitable, but did not do as well as the previous year (2015: 38%, 2016: 41%); while fewer firms were found to have similar profits as a year ago (2015: 29%, 2016: 23%), and the proportion of those that were more profitable was largely unchanged (2015: 12%, 2016: 13%).

With a majority of establishments citing company and staff performance as determinants of wage increases and bonuses in 2016, unsurprisingly, the report found that more profitable firms continued to give higher total and basic wage increases and larger bonuses – profitable firms gave at least 2 months in quantum on average, compared to loss-making firms (1.31 months).

Smaller proportion of establishments raised wages in 2016 (58%) than 2015 (64%), resulting in a slightly lower proportion of employees with an increase in total wage. Nevertheless, 75% of employees received an increase in total wage in 2016, compared with 77% in 2015

This article was first published in Human Resources and is reproduced with permission. Original article can be found at

Wage practices 2016

Report on Wage Practices 2016

61% say pay transparency will decrease staff morale

Though pay transparency has been found to boost employer-employee relationships, bosses in the advertising and marketing fields felt that an open pay policy would decrease staff morale.

According to new research from The Creative Group, 82% of the 400 creative executives interviewed, revealed that their organisation refrains from publicising staff compensation; of these respondents, 61% felt that pay transparency would decrease staff morale.

Nevertheless, the research also noted that there is an upside to embracing such a policy, with top benefits including increasing productivity (18%) and boosting recruitment and retention (17%).

Sadly, more than one-quarter of executives (27%) believe the potential risks outweigh any rewards.

The survey further reveals that open salary policies are most common among mid-size companies, (500-999 staff), and least common at large agencies (1,000 or more employees).

Interestingly, more than half of marketing executives at midsize companies without open salary policies (51%) thought pay transparency would increase staff morale. In contrast, more than 72% of advertising executives at large agencies felt it would have an adverse effect.

“No matter what your company’s salary policy is, benchmarking compensation and paying competitively are crucial in today’s candidate-driven market,” said Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group.

“Talented professionals are always exploring their options, and managers need to stay on top of salary trends to ensure their employees are being paid fairly.”

This article was first published in Human Resources and is reproduced with permission. Original article can be found at

Sick days: how many is too many?

Sick days: how many is too many?

For employees who are running out of annual leave, today is perhaps one of the best days of the year to call in sick. Thanks to the public holiday tomorrow, calling in sick today will get them four consecutive days off.

Recently, a netizen shared in an online post that he took four to six sick days a year and was told by his supervisor this would negatively impact his appraisal. The supervisor then provided him with a “golden standard” on how many sick days “good” and “bad” employees take a year.

Here are the details:
    Zero to two days: The model employee

    – Three to four days: Reasonable

    – ys: Not ideal, but acceptable

    – Nine to 12 days: The company has hired an employee with poor health

    – 13 to 18 days: A repeat offender

    – 19 to 30 days: They do not deserve an year-end bonus

    – More than 30 days: They are like thieves. They steal the credit of other employees who do show up to work every day.

Where do you stand in this golden standard of taking sick leave? Are you a model employee or a repeat offender?

According to a local study, one in ten employees in Hong Kong have abused their sick leave, so it is no surprise that there are irresponsible colleagues who try to dodge work.

A respondent to the post shared that his colleague was assigned one month of sick leave by the doctor, then took annual leave for two weeks to go on a vacation. After returning from holiday, he had to take sick leave again. It took him four months before he returned to work.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are unstoppable employees: one commenter said he had not taken a single sick day in 16 years.

This article was first published in Human Resources and is reproduced with permission. Original article can be found at