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Employees first, clients second

Published on Saturday, 09 Nov 2019

Finding staff with the right talent and expertise continues to be a major struggle for employers in Hong Kong. Last year, Manpower Group’s annual survey on talent shortages revealed that 76 per cent of Hong Kong employers find it difficult to fill jobs, while 92 per cent report that the challenge of attracting talent has either stayed the same or become worse when compared to 2017.

Even if firms can attract top talent, they may struggle to hold on to them. Another survey by a recruitment platform found that more than six in 10 employees in Hong Kong are unhappy at work, with nearly half saying they intended to change jobs in the next 12 months. The promise of a handsome salary is no longer enough to prevent staff from leaving a company. Relationships with colleagues and bosses were cited by 63 per cent as the most important factor to happiness at work, considerably higher than salary at 54 per cent.

Firms that are failing to engage staff could certainly learn a thing or two from global institutional investment network Liquidnet, which was recently named as one of the Top 10 Best Companies to Work for in Hong Kong by the Great Place To Work institute. Winning the award is a good validation tool for our staff, especially people who have been with the company a long time, says Jen Lewis, head of talent engagement for APAC. “Our people really do come first — it’s not just lip service, we have an amazing culture here.”

Lewis, who worked at several multinationals prior to joining Liquidnet including Caltex, GSK and IBM, notes that many employees that join the firm seem keen to escape the structural rigidity of larger organisations. “People want to get away from the bureaucracy and hierarchical structure and work with smaller organisation like us. We take what works from the big company’s structures and leave the politics behind.”

At Liquidnet, the management structure is decidedly non-hierarchical, with the CEO keen to strike up good relationships with employees via initiatives such as taking new staff members out for lunch, says Lewis. “Staff expect a lot of inspiration and motivation in terms of leadership and management style, and we hold them accountable.” Employees that come in from larger organisations are perhaps not so familiar with this level of accountability and the focus on teamwork, she adds.

One of the strategies that Liquidnet utilises to retain and attract staff is using food as a competitive benefit via its partnership with Deliveroo. The investment firm has partnered with the online food delivery company for more than three years, offering themed lunches that celebrate cultural diversity to all employees every Friday. “It enables staff from other departments to get to know each other better in a relaxed setting. Teams that don’t usually speak to one another can connect, and out of that opportunity grows,” she says.

Staff are also encouraged to sing each other’s praises. If an employee feels a colleague is doing well, they can nominate them for a Spark award, in which the employee is awarded a voucher and gets a shout out on a regional conference video. “It’s not the voucher that’s so important but the recognition and applause that employees receive from colleagues,” she believes.

Lewis says that staff additionally appreciate the firm’s learning culture, with each employee assigned a HK$20,000 learning budget annually, which they can spend on seminars, courses and working towards qualifications.

That Lewis is able to talk about the company with such enthusiasm after 11 years speaks volumes. But she isn’t surprised that 60 per cent of Hong Kong employees are unhappy in the workplace. The reason? Many firms are more concerned with the transactional nature of the business rather than being people focused, she says. “When I speak to prospective employees, I ask them, ‘do you think we put employees first or clients first?’ Most say clients first. When I say we put employees first, it takes them by surprise. But if, say, you go into a shop and are not treated well, then you are disengaged. If, on the other hand, you go into a shop and are treated well, and that happiness shines through [from the staff], then customers are happy, too.”

If firms can put employees before anything else in the business, Lewis is confident that they will be able to attract and retain staff. “As the saying goes, people leave managers, not companies. I’ve never once seen one person be put off by our culture… they just get more interested and more and more engaged the longer they stay.” The firm’s attrition rate of around five per cent neatly illustrates her point. “It’s culture by design, and if you set up the right environment for employees, the rest will follow.”

Having been identified as one of Hong Kong’s best companies to work for, the firm is keen to stay competitive. It is considering the introduction of a ‘returnship’ programme that will help women successfully integrate back into the workplace after maternity via initiatives such as brand workshops and networking sessions. An immersion coding programme for women will also be rolled out across Asia next year. 

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