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Employment trends demand mindset change for human resources

Great people make great companies and in an era of constant change innovative recruitment strategies are essential for a company to stay competitive throughout the hiring process. The latest Classified Post HR Conference held on January 17 featured expert speakers who envisaged a mindset change for the HR professional community when combating various challenges facing talent recruitment and retention in 2020.

Keynote speaker Mercer’s Principal Brian Sy, Head of Total Rewards for Hong Kong, set the scene with his in-house research on Global Talent Trends. He highlighted that employees’ day-to-day workplace experience is falling short and therefore has become a hot topic for HR professionals. He believes employee experience is shaped by an employee’s expectations, their working environment and events within the main organization concerned. “Our data showed that 30 percent of staff do not know their company’s overall direction, while 44 percent were unclear about their career path, not knowing the skills with which they should equip themselves. In fact, HR can shift their mindset by exploring ways to figure out what types of experience people crave, thereby improving the whole staff experience journey. In the past, a handshake and employment contract denoted the relationship between employer and employees; but today it’s about fairness, personal purpose and achievement.”

Mr Sy gave an account of experience covering the four Es -- Enriching, Efficient, Embracing and Empathetic, such as whether jobs could fulfil staffs’ personal values, creating a comfortable working environment and allowing them to be themselves, as well as simplifying processes and workflow in big companies. Mr Sy explained, “At Mercer we do exercises like bosses sitting down together with staff to see how their jobs can make an impact and what’s vital for them. In our strategy meetings we’ll bring staff’s own missions into line with the organization’s to harmonize the two. Indeed, staff members’ important life events, such as weddings, also count as milestones. Hence, the company can identify with them and offer support.”

Mr Sy said the way forward requires a change in the way companies invest in people, i.e. a loyalty contract in the 20th century versus an engagement contract today that takes care of psychological needs like achievement, equity and a broader set of rewards such as pay benefits in exchange for organization engagement. Four key trends are also identified: aligning current work to the future of work, e.g. Artificial Intelligence and Big Data, which means talents need new skills to deliver work in the future; building brand resonance to attract talents via social media like active posts in LinkedIn; curating the work environment for a happy workplace such as simplifying procedures with self-service employee portals or delegating responsibility for making decisions or even investing more in knowledge management, e.g. knowledge library access; and HR playing the role of delivering talents/leading changes resulting from business expansion. He said bluntly, “HR is not sited in the middle of change. If organizations intend to implement big changes, HR should from the get-go engage in ideas generation and brainstorming with management. This is because statistics show that 56 percent of implementation is done by HR.”

With Gen Z accounting for 30 percent of the world population and the addition of Gen Y making up the other half of the total, Dr Felix Yip, Associate Director (Consultancy Service) at the Centre for Human Resources Strategy and Development, School of Business of Hong Kong Baptist University, contended that it’s not uncommon to find four or five generations all working for the same company. This poses challenges, not just work-related but also concerning psychological perspectives, as each generation has its own characteristics and expectations. Hence, it’s vital for HR to understand their needs, with suitable business settings to engage multi-generational employees, especially talents of Gen Z, e.g. hot desking, open-air reception area, plug and play bench, use of modern technologies, project-based assignments, as well as more sharing area for Gen Z and mature staff given that age is a barrier.

When evaluating Gen X, Dr Yip highlighted that these young professionals tend to be creative and individualistic. He explained, “They are the new kids on the block who would be strongly motivated to be their own boss, rather than be entrepreneurs or employees. Many of them want a fun/work environment and flexibility in their work schedule. Unlike their predecessors they are task-oriented and free of workplace and time and, most importantly, instant messaging and rapid response differentiate them from older generations. As a result, key motivators in the workplace become indispensable. Their wish list starts with a good employee healthcare benefits package, a talent program to engage, motivate and develop a robust career path to satisfy their desire to move around within their organization and stronger learning and development to upskill/reskill and redeploy employees rapidly as artificial intelligence becomes more mainstream.

“It makes sense to leverage modern technology to help Gen Z to communicate, collaborate and build relationships with other generations, like the provision of various ways to get to know one another via internal social platforms and team-based activities. Apart from encouraging transparency by building intensive engagement with corporate culture to allow Gen Z to interact with other members of the organization directly at different levels, other plusses are honest communication, celebration of team diversity and inclusion. In fact, two-thirds of Gen Z said their goal in life was to make it to the top of their profession and 66 percent of them value feedback from their supervisor every few weeks in staying at their job.”

Industry 4.0 induces a slew of cyber-physical systems like Big Data, the Internet of Things, facial recognition and augmented reality which HR can employ as a force for transformation and leverage, according to The Great Eagle Company, Limited’s Head of Digital Transformation & Innovation Akina Ho. She strongly recommended that HR change the way they recruit, interview, do orientation and carry out reviews. “When recruiting new staff, the use of chatbots can speed up your pre-qualification processes like applications and online tests. It even generates reports to rank and review potential candidates. For the interview process, get candidates to send in self-recorded video interviews and use AI to process and analyse their micro-facial expressions to derive an insight score. Then rank them against the candidate pool to screen out unsuitable candidates. Instead of sticking to traditional training settings, the orientation process should be continuous and fun, e.g. video, games and even the use of Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality to display the office environment and past events before they onboard.”

Ms Ho placed emphasis on changing the way HR review staff and added, “Reviews need to be value-added and relationship-building, so complete all administrative work online with AI (chatbot), to facilitate handling any sensitive questions without doing it face-to-face, which encourages employees to express concerns. Therefore, no more forms, and make it fun, personal and easy. Moreover, HR need to change the way they plan for succession. Apart from identifying talents that exist internally, it’s doable with social media like LinkedIn. Still, change within an organization starts with talents to influence culture/mindset shifts. So HR drives company transformation and they, as a force for possibilities, take the lead.”

The 20-minute panel discussion moderated by PERSOLKELLY Consulting (HK)’s Associate Director for Learning Academy Winnie Lee proved inspiring as three of the above-mentioned speakers solicited one another’s views and tips on combating challenges faced in engaging and rewarding talents this year. Topics like tips on retaining staff and tackling conflicts in a multi-generation workforce were examined, followed by a Q&A from the floor. Some seed thoughts posed interesting questions such as the worth of retaining staff to the point where they tendered their resignations; use of retention bonuses; referral by soon-to-resign staff who can promote company culture by word of mouth; listening to your staff’s suggestions and instant reviewing on a regular basis; more internal team project competition to drive collaboration; and changing the method of rewarding staff, e.g. paying for skills in return for fairness.

During the lunch conference, Raymond Ng, Vice President and Head of Employee Benefits at Manulife Hong Kong, provided some insight on the evolution of retirement planning with innovation in view of the aging population and declining birth rate. By 2033, about 30 percent of the population in Hong Kong will be in the over-65 age group, affecting HR recruitment’s quality and quantity*.

He opined, “Age may affect productivity, so with Gens Y and Z generally characterized by smart, knowledgeable and prompt action, it’s important for HR to make more good use of them and find ways to increase their productivity. Also, consider their behaviour and loyalty, engaging with them as ways of retaining them to work longer.”

Mr Ng also encouraged HR to change their mindset and equip themselves for future progress in their careers. He added, “Apart from management, HR needs to know clearly about company direction and adapt their strategy accordingly. Forward thinking is a plus as it determines the success of a company. With the electronic Mandatory Provident Fund (eMPF) slated to be launched in phases starting in 2022 this centralized platform is more member-driven, as individual members will be the key decision-makers. Self-service and digitisation are expected. In fact, HR may take a proactive role by making a difference and adding value to the company, e.g. review the MPF scheme regularly, educate employees about the MPF and related knowledge and change/add MPF providers when necessary.”

Mr Ng wrapped up his presentation with a key message — Change is the key to meeting emerging retirement needs as Hong Kong’s population continues to age. “Our employers and HR community are advised to embrace change, maintain a positive mindset, accept a certain degree of risk, turn HR into a ‘profit maker’ rather than a ‘spender’ through talent acquisition for their company, and in particular nurture a brain with problem-solving and trust for risk management.

*Source: Office of the Government Economist – Economic Letter 2019/02