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Multi-level motivators can help retain your non-managerial talent

The long-term retention of non-managerial employees poses a number of unique challenges for local employers, many of whom are implementing holistic staff development and engagement programmes to inspire commitment and a sense of belonging at all levels.

Lancy Chui, senior vice-president of ManpowerGroup for the Greater China region, says non-managerial employees are currently mostly millennials (defined variably as those born from the late 1980s to the early 1990s). To retain them, companies should demonstrate how they are able to enhance their careers, such as through training and on-the-job learning.

Additionally, millennial employees are looking for a flexible working model and, by extension, may not wish to stay in one position for long. “Employers will need to create opportunities for them to work on different projects across a variety of teams to build diverse experience and networks across the organisation,” Chui says. “This helps satisfy their appetite for new opportunities without them having to go elsewhere. This strategy needs to highlight the value of progression through building a portfolio of skills and experiences, and not just through promotion.”

Job rotation is one “horizontal” career development scheme that some organisations offer their non-managerial employees. Branding and events company Pico Far East encourages job rotation both locally and via its global office network. Lawrence Chia, chairman of Pico, says this practice helps broaden employees’ cultural exposure and enables best practices to be shared among the group. “We also have an international task force which allows our people to learn from each other and work together to achieve special project objectives,” he says.

Sharmini Wainwright, managing director of Michael Page Hong Kong, says that essential to understanding younger non-managerial staff is taking note of how they are different from previous generations of workers. For a start, she believes they have higher expectations of employers. “At the same time, they have high expectations of what they want to achieve in life,” she says.

“The very first thing they demand is transparency – they want to work for an organisation that provides a clear, transparent picture about what an employee can achieve in terms of career path and earnings, among others. If what is offered by an employer meets the employee’s expectations, then he or she will stay. Organisations seen to invest in staff knowledge and skills enhancement will be great for this generation, like those sponsoring selected employees’ continuing education or paying for their professional qualifications.”

Global hotel group Marriott International offers a comprehensive range of professional development programmes to its staff, with some specifically targeting non-managers with an aim to helping them make the step up. Sandra Ngan, the group’s vice-president of human resources for Greater China, says multiple learning experiences and platforms are on offer for all employees.

“We have the facilitator-led training programmes such as ESSM – ‘Essential Skills for Supervisors and Managers’ – and LEAD – ‘Leadership, Education and Development for Growth’. ESSM modules cover the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully perform supervisory and managerial jobs, ranging from communications to coaching to time management. LEAD is a self-paced programme that helps develop and prepare high-calibre non-management employees for entry management positions with a focus on leadership skills and business operations.”

Pico is also committed to developing its employees professionally via its Talent Acceleration Programme (TAP). Chia says the in-house programme was developed in collaboration with a number of universities more than three decades ago. “The intensive TAP encompasses both theory and practice. As the existence of TAP implies, when new skill sets are needed, we prefer  to nurture these skills in our existing employees, rather than hiring new people. This is a big factor in retaining employees too.”

Chui believes flexible working hours are also particularly attractive to contemporary workers. She says employers who wish to engage their staff need to establish new workplace models that use technology to incorporate flexible hours, enabling staff to work whenever and wherever is most productive.

Stephen Lo, managing director of hi-tech polymer supplier Covestro Hong Kong, says that his company allows employees to work from home if needs arise, such as when domestic helpers are on leave. “We also give emergency leave for staff if the situation requires, like when a key family member suddenly falls ill and needs care. Over the years, we have not seen our staff abuse this trust from the company,” he says.

“There is no high level of discrepancy in the productivity of an employee working from home and when he or she works in the office. Technology definitely helps. When employees work from home, they are linked with the company’s system via our virtual network.”

To promote engagement between staff on all levels, Covestro promotes social programmes and events and regularly holds a range of activities for employees and their families, Lo says. “We have our annual Family Day, during which the kids come to the office to see how and where their parents work. We show them the products. Entertainment, such as magic shows, are included, followed by a buffet lunch.”

Letting staff members take ownership of their role inspires commitment and motivation, Lo adds, saying that management tries to be as “invisible” as possible. “As a German company, we place high emphasis on trust of employees. Together we let them participate in a lot of decision-making at the office.”

All this has helped his company enjoy a low staff turnover rate throughout its history in Hong Kong. “In 2015, our turnover rate of non-managerial employees was 5 per cent,” Lo says.

This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Multi-level motivators.