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China's selective syndrome

Published on Friday, 27 May 2011
White-collar workers take a break in Beijing. Recent research findings indicate that work-life balance is becoming a key issue in the Chinese workforce.
Photo: AP
Christine Raynaud

China's workers have transformed the nation's economy over the past two decades, creating new paradigms and a dominant force in global trade.

With that also come inevitable changes in expectations and attitudes. It is only natural for individuals to rethink their goals and values, reflecting the patterns and shifts in outlook seen in other fast-growing economies.

In tracking and analysing such changes, the latest MRI Greater China talent environment index confirms, in particular, that mid- to senior-level mainland executives have clearly identified ideals and objectives.

Essentially they want higher compensation, career advancement and a better work-life balance, and perhaps most significantly, they expect to get it - either where they are or by moving on.

According to Christine Raynaud, CEO of the MRI China Group - an executive search firm focusing on jobs in Asia - the index draws a picture of a rising and increasingly confident middle class on the lookout for career opportunities and dissatisfied with their current remuneration.

These findings come from an online survey conducted late last year of more than 3,000 executives across six key industries in Hong Kong and the mainland, and show that "talent", in a fast-evolving, high-octane economy, knows its own worth. "We are seeing complex trends and interesting value changes among top talent in China, and it is not all about money," Raynaud says. "Companies can mitigate the compensation issue with a good work environment and career plan; attraction and retention [should be] on the agenda of all CEOs and senior HR executives."

Other findings include a higher-than-expected 64 per cent of mainland respondents prepared to look for work outside their home base, with Singapore and Australia the most sought after destinations for international experience.

And work-life balance, or "happiness" - not generally viewed as a key issue in the Chinese workplace before - is emerging as a real factor for management consideration.

Together with the increased feeling that job satisfaction is linked to a sense of progress and achievement, this could create significant challenges for companies slow to update their culture, management methods and engagement policies.

"Any company that does not respond to these challenges will be starting behind in the race for talent," Raynaud says. "We know that listening to the workforce is very important, providing career paths and thinking about wider opportunities such as relocation."

She says the mainland is on the fast track to being much more than just a low-cost production centre. The country is well along the path to also being a centre for design, innovation, marketing, finance and high-end manufacturing.

Therefore, employers must be ready to "over-invest" in areas such as training, development and mentoring. They must have - and communicate - a clear vision of where the organisation is going and, if they intend to get there, make the effort to recognise what up-and-coming executives now expect.

"It is about being proactive," Raynaud says. "[Employers] will need to respond more to the aspirations of top talent and the interest, for example, in work-life balance. The views of executives, as employees or potential candidates, should be considered in the same way a company talks to clients when promoting its products or services."

This, she says, is an essential step in developing an attractive employer value proposition that will become ever more important for Chinese companies which find themselves increasingly competing for talent in an international market.

Heart of the matter

  • Talent acquisition and retention strategies should be at the heart of the business
  • High-potential staff respond well to more responsibility and autonomy
  • Employer should put in place a promotion policy framework


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