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Aon Hewitt report highlights key employee engagement trends in Asia-Pacific

Detailed findings show what firms can do to be Best Employers

If you are an employer in Hong Kong, it is likely that more than a quarter of your workforce is only passively engaged in their jobs, and around half are looking for opportunities in other companies. These are some of the findings of Aon Hewitt’s new report, 2014 Trends in Asia Pacific Employee Engagement.  

The report gives valuable insight into an area that is particularly crucial for companies involved in Aon Hewitt’s Best Employers Awards, which in Hong Kong will next be handing out accolades in January 2015.

The report shows average engagement in the region has risen by three percentage points since the last study in 2012 to 61 per cent – the same as engagement levels globally.

Although the figures for Hong Kong have increased by 2 per cent overall since the last survey, the city’s scores are low on a regional scale, says Gabriela Domicelj, regional engagement practice leader for Asia-Pacific at Aon Hewitt. “Typically, the Hong Kong engagement levels aren’t great,” she says. “They’re not the worst, but they’re at the lower end of the market in Asia-Pacific.”

Of Hong Kong employees, 29 per cent rate themselves as passively engaged, compared with the Asia-Pacific average of 24 per cent, and only 49 per cent plan to stay with their current company for the foreseeable future. “One in two is looking for outside opportunities,” Domicelj says.

There is good news, however – employees are more positive about their companies than two years ago. Responses linked to productivity are also up. “There is a six-point increase in the ‘Say’ behaviour, [which measures] whether employees are willing to recommend their company as a good place to work and how they’re talking about the company. Six points, as a change, is huge.”

The measure for “Strive” – whether employees try to do their best at work every day – rose by 5 per cent. 

Getting it right is particularly important in Hong Kong’s low unemployment jobs market, Domicelj says. Passively engaged employees often just need a gentle push to turn them into fully engaged workers. “They’re the lowest-hanging fruit,” she says.

So what can employers do to improve employee engagement? Finding out what employees want and responding to those needs seems a logical response.

Career opportunities tops the wish list for employees, especially the younger generation. “They’re really interested in different experiences and experiential careers. They want short-term, interesting work that’s not repeated. This poses a challenge to some industries, clearly, but is certainly something they need to address.”

“We’re seeing a trend, particularly among the younger generation of employees,” Domicelj says. 

Employers have options other than promotions to provide those types of experiences, as shown by the successful strategies used by some of Aon Hewitt’s Best Employers.

We’re exploring innovative ways to give lateral movement … to give workers different experiences across functions within the same company or across geographies,” Domicelj says. “When we look at a lot of our Best Employers, they have established programmes to do that in a very systematic way.”

Companies often have opportunities in place, but fail to tell employees. The perception of communication among Hong Kong employees fell by 11 per cent this year. 

Second on employees’ wish list is innovation. “Employees in Hong Kong, again typically the younger employees, want to be part of an organisation that is creative, is rethinking the way it does business, and has a leadership that is open to new ways of doing things,” Domicelj says.

The top three drivers in Asia-Pacific are career opportunities, pay, and employer brand and brand alignment.

Pay is particularly important for employees in China, where younger workers who are often only children have to support several generations in their family. 

Employer brand is closely linked to employee value proposition – what employers can offer employees as an employment experience, and whether they deliver on what they have promised.

“More companies are paying attention to [employer brand] and trying to bring to life what is unique about their organisation, whether it’s their history, their culture internally, their values, or their leadership.” 

Sushant Upadhyay, managing director for Aon Hewitt Consulting in Hong Kong and Taiwan, says that a new engagement driver included in the survey is “Trust in Action”. “We define this as employees’ confidence in the organisation and its leaders – whether they have the ability and commitment to act on the feedback employees provide and improve their employment experience,” he says. “We see a huge correlation between engagement and the Trust in Action index.”

Fritz Yeung, Aon Hewitt’s project leader for Best Employers Hong Kong 2015, says organisations can improve their Trust in Action ranking by communicating the results of engagement surveys to staff; setting up employee-run working groups or project teams to improve work experiences; and making managers accountable for communicating with their teams.

Leadership also affects engagement. A new focus of Aon Hewitt’s research is trying to find out whether high-impact leaders are born or made. “What we’ve explored now is what else leaders of highly advanced teams are doing to drive engagement,” Domicelj says.

The results so far show that leaders of high-performing teams show confidence about their ability to take on difficult assignments; have a strong personal sense of purpose; are optimistic about their ability to develop people; and are honest, open, connected to their team, and usually humble in their attitudes.

“The question then is are you born a leader, or can some of this be learnt? Our opinion is probably half of it can be learnt, but some of it is systemic.” Domicelj says. 



November 18, 2014: Judging day by six judges from HR, business, media and the academe

January 2015: Best Employers Hong Kong 2015 Awards and Learning Conference

Contact Elaine Liu at for more information.