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Young, restless and at risk

Published on Friday, 29 Apr 2011
Illustration: Bay Leung
Francis Mok
President of the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management (HKIHRM)
Matthew Hill
Ambition's managing director in Hong Kong

In the post-crisis pickup, it is once again becoming common for young professionals to hop between companies in pursuit of higher pay, different challenges or the chance of faster career progress.

Such moves are an expected part of any active job market, but a recent survey by recruitment firm Ambition cautions that too many moves and the resulting "jumpy CV" may harm rather than help an individual's longer-term career prospects.

"People are staying in jobs for shorter and shorter periods," says Matthew Hill, Ambition's managing director in Hong Kong, referring to a study of in-house data on the employment history of candidates in the first five years of their careers. "The bonus culture is fuelling a lack of brand loyalty and a sense that changing jobs is the best way to advance."

He points out that frequent moves prevent people from really proving themselves with one employer and from acquiring skills essential to move into middle management positions.

He advises Hongkongers to be prepared to "hang in there" early in their careers, keeping in mind that a solid record of commitment and performance paves the way to advancement.

And employers, in turn, should make greater effort to understand the outlook and expectations of their "Generation Y" staff, taking proactive measures to anticipate valid concerns and thus improve retention.

"Some multinationals and financial services companies have started monthly sessions to explain the bigger picture and how each person fits in," Hill says. "Younger [staff] are not always engaged. They want to see how their job adds value to the organisation and to know where they could be in five or 10 years' time. Candidates who jump ship often say they don't feel part of the business."

Hill notes that certain businesses have now introduced "lifestyle" classes specifically aimed at younger staff. These include courses on nutrition, health and fitness, and even sessions with midwives for expectant parents.

"Companies will constantly face the fact that competitors will try to tempt their staff with more money," Hill says. "So, they must create a better work-life balance and make sure people know how they can become a department head or break into the next managerial level."

In the present job market, employees who move repeatedly will still find work but will ultimately advance more slowly. And employers will find it tougher to develop an internal talent pipeline of people with the experience and local know-how to fill middle-management roles.

Francis Mok, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management (HKIHRM), confirms that most decision makers handling recruitment still prefer to see a stable career progression. They know how long it can take for any new hire to become familiar with the culture, values, systems and operations of an organisation before being "fully functional" and able to contribute to the business.

He says employers must move with the times. That means realising some traditional workplace values such as loyalty and promotions based on seniority need modification.


Focus on Gen Y

  • The HKIHRM advises employers to capitalise on the strengths of young staff who are typically optimistic, self-confident, creative and energetic
  • Companies must identify their talent pool early and do more to make these people feel important
  • "Jumpy CVs" are still taken as a sign of lack of commitment rather than of dynamism or ambition


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