The Hong Kong unemployment rate continues to stand at just 2.8%, remaining steady at a 20 year low, according to the Department for Labour and Welfare. In today’s competitive job market, with demand outstripping supply, employers must up their game to attract the best candidates to help them succeed, and also retain their star employees. But what steps can a company take to ensure that they win the talent war?
Of course, salary still remains a hugely important factor. Employers must offer as much compensation as their budget allows. We have seen candidates demanding huge pay rises to risk job security and jump ship to a different employer. In the last few months, Gemini has had candidates demanding up to a 25% pay rise for an equivalent position, and in such a tight job market, they sometimes succeed. For an employer, negotiating too hard at the initial phases of attracting a candidate may end up costing employers more in the long run, as they struggle to find the best candidates.
Apart from salary, candidates look for myriad other elements. With the benefit of 35 years in the market, Gemini is pleased to share what candidates really look for in a new company, and therefore what employers can do to make sure they attract the best.
Work life balance and flexibility
Although not traditionally associated with Hong Kong working practices, more and more, Hong Kongers are catching onto the working policies which we see more of in Europe. We are not yet at the extremes of France, where companies with more than 50 employees are legally obliged to enact policies where staff are not allowed to check emails out of core working office hours. However, we find that candidates are increasingly seeking 5 day work weeks as standard, and are enquiring on policies regarding remote working, altering working hours to help manage family commitments, and other policies which encourage a more flexible attitude to working. The shift is to focus on what maximises productivity, rather than solely about ‘çlocking in the hours’. Could it be time to review your policies to ensure your employees are working effectively?
Career development and progression
As the best candidates prove to be more and more in demand, another factor they look for is how they can grow within the company. A recent study from JobsDB in Hong Kong highlighted that 10.3% of candidates considered career growth as the single most important consideration for joining a company, even ahead of salary. At Gemini we are seeing candidates asking more and more questions about promotion path, and a potential employer’s track record for promoting from within.
Allied to this is an increasing focus on skills development. How much are you investing in developing your employees, and giving them the skills to progress and become more well-rounded professionals? Employers have to be cognisant of that fact that not all staff want to progress into leadership and management positions, especially in the IT field – many employees are happy as individual contributors, but simply want to become experts in their position. We advise employers to promote learning and development, whether through internal training, providing employees with a budget to undertake development courses, or simply ensuring that they promote a continuous improvement culture by highlighting continuing education courses. This doesn’t need to cost an employer money. The Hong Kong government offers a Continuing Education Fund to allow employees to improve themselves at no cost to the employer.
Transparency & Clarity
From the very initial stages, candidates are seeking a clear, accurate and unambiguous understanding of what their responsibilities are, and exactly what influence and authority they will have. This will help to manage expectations, from both an employer and employee point of view. It pays for employers to have a detailed understanding of exactly what role they are looking to fill, to attract the best candidates who can help them achieve their particular business objectives. This is important from the very beginning; an accurate and detailed job description will successfully attract a better calibre of candidates. The reporting lines, and where an employee sits in the organisation should be clear, as well as how an employee will contribute to the success of the business.
Coupled with this, an employer should be clear on how transparent they want to be on pay and benefits. We are not suggesting that Hong Kong adopts the Swedish model (whereby any citizen can access the tax returns of any other citizen, thus being able to find out their salary), but to promote fairness and equality, and increase trust, employers should be constantly evaluating where they can increase their transparency levels. If you trust your employers, and want them to repay that trust with improved productivity and effectiveness, increased transparency should at least be considered.
At Gemini, we have seen our candidates turn down more highly paid jobs due to poor reviews online and / or a company’s reputation in the market. Often the candidates won’t even proceed to interview if they have heard negative stories about the company. This applies equally to both small companies and multi-nationals. Therefore, employers shouldn’t bury their heads in the sand: look at review sites (what are the negative comments about? how can this be addressed?), look at your employer branding (does it fit with your ethos as a company? does it need updating and modernising?), and conduct a review of your marketing strategy (look at where and how you advertise). Ultimately, if you have a bad reputation in the market place, what can you do to correct it?
In fact, according to a recent survey, 68% of candidates said they’d turn down a job offer if they were made aware of negative aspects of the company. Together with candidate experience, employer brand and reputation is an important recruiting differentiator in today’s competitive talent market.
This is often the most difficult issue to address, and any challenges certainly wouldn’t be solved quickly, but we are increasingly seeing that culture is a huge factor for candidates. Many companies put this in the ‘too difficult’ box, and consequently, it is never addressed, but our experience shows that it is hugely important to at least start looking at your company culture, to make sure you’re attracting the highest calibre of candidates. Whilst traditionally the preserve of more Western focused companies, Hong Kongers are increasingly savvy about the benefits of joining an organisation which has a culture matching their expectations. Candidates are increasingly looking for organisations that have values-based cultures, are known for being trustworthy and ethical, treat their staff and clients with dignity and respect, have fun in the office and provide a generally healthy social environment in which to work.
This doesn’t only apply to the physical working environment, but in fact, moreso to the people elements. In recent research it was found that a surprisingly high 21% of respondents stated that “having a good relationship with colleagues” was more important for satisfaction at work than salary. In addition, we saw that candidates placed great importance on “enjoying the job”, with 24% of respondents picking this option. When candidates have choices, being satisfied and engaged at work clearly matters. It is important to highlight that there is no single ‘best fit’, and each company needs to decide and define for itself what their culture is. For some employers, a culture where everyone is valued and has a voice will be important. Others might feel that they thrive in a competitive environment where success and achievements are acknowledged and rewarded. Gemini’s advice is to stop delaying, and have this difficult conversation sooner rather than later, as this can prove pivotal to attracting the best candidates.
Another oft ignored change which employers can make, is to really hone the induction process. It is so important in creating the right experience, and setting the right expectations. Even before a candidate is hired, we are increasingly seeing the induction as a differentiating factor for candidates to consider which employer might be best for them. The more astute candidates will actually ask what the induction plan is but for others, being told that there actually IS an induction process (and seeing what that looks like) will be a huge plus. The right induction process is continually evolving, and employers should have a vehicle for soliciting feedback to ensure that the process is refined and improved. The best people to have input to improving it, are the new people who have been through it.
Ultimately, in Hong Kong’s economic climate, we have seen that the market is increasingly candidate driven. We hope that Gemini’s tips to attract (and retain) the best candidates gives employers a competitive edge.