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Companies in Asia must focus on their people

Norah Seddon
We speak to a people expert about the importance of aligning employer and employee interests in a people-centric approach to growth
An interview with
People & Organisation Asia Pacific leader at PwC

A majority of employees across Asia-Pacific expect their employers to provide them with upskilling opportunities. The focus on providing skilling and upskilling opportunities is emerging as an important piece in the jigsaw as companies look to meet employee expectations. PwC’s Asia Pacific Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2022: Time for a rethinka survey of 18,000 employees across Asia-Pacific, finds that companies in the region have much to do in this respect.

We speak with Norah Seddon, People & Organisation Asia Pacific leader at PwC, to understand why this is important particularly given the challenges emanating from the Great Resignation, a theme we covered in the first part of our interview.

Unravel: There’s much talk about upskilling initiatives that companies are implementing, but only 45% of employees in the Asia-Pacific region say their company is upskilling its workers. Is this surprising?

Norah Seddon: Yes, it is. I have heard people express the view that they’re concerned they may spend time and resources on training employees who may then quit. But this doesn’t have to happen. Richard Branson once said: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” The key therefore lies with how well companies look after their employees. And providing reskilling and upskilling opportunities should be an ongoing, everyday part of the job.

In Australia, we have a term called boomeranging, which refers to employees who quit and then come back to the same companies later. When people leave, companies should try to stay on good terms with them, leaving the door open for them to return.

Unravel: More than four in ten employees are worried their employers will not teach them the technology skills they need. How would you explain this, given an improvement in employee skills is good for the company?

Ms Seddon: It can be challenging for companies to know what technology skills employees are going to need in five or ten years. I think employers and employees are trying to work this out, but there’s more work needed in this respect. And I am not sure how much of it has to do with costs. If you look at a lot of the literature on upskilling and training, this isn’t happening in classrooms but on the job. I’d say about 70% is on the job, so this should not be a significant cost for companies.

Unravel: Only 36% of employees in the region say their employer supports workers’ physical and mental wellbeing. Again, why do you think this share is so low?

Ms Seddon: I think while this share is low, it is increasing. I’d love for this share to be higher. But I think employers now understand the importance of support for physical and mental wellbeing. And as companies increasingly focus on improving their employee value proposition, we are going to see more and more companies look at this. I am firmly of the belief that employers in the region are improving in this regard and I look forward to seeing the answer to that question in next year’s survey.

Unravel: The survey shows there is a transparency and trust gap among Asia-Pacific employees. How can this be explained?

Ms Seddon: We’re seeing differences between generations. For example, Gen Z employees are more particular about how they are being treated, and whether they’re being treated fairly and equitably. But knowing all of this means there needs to be greater transparency. I think transparency goes hand in hand with fairness and equitability. The workforce as a whole really does want to understand the purpose of the company and the reasoning behind decisions. And we’re seeing this change in our culture across the globe. Where it’s the why as much as the what that we need to answer.

Unravel: Two in three employees in the region prefer hybrid working arrangements. Do you think this is a passing phase, or do you expect to see hybrid work models become entrenched with employee demand for flexibility?

Ms Seddon: I was surprised to see how few people want to be in the office full-time. As reported in our survey, 24% of employees across the region want to work fully remotely and 66% prefer a hybrid working model. And yes, I think the numbers indicate very clearly that hybrid work models are here to stay. This is going to become an ongoing part of the employee value proposition. Employees will continue to expect flexibility, and this will happen across all generations. For example, as you get older, one may want to have more time to spend with family or children or to support elderly parents.

I think COVID-19 has shown that hybrid working arrangements can work. And employees want a mix. Employers that cannot offer that mix need to be very clear with employees about why they cannot offer such flexibility.

Unravel: As of now, 66% of employees feel they lack support to make ethical decisions, and 73% say they lack support for minimising their company’s impact on the environment. Isn’t this a huge challenge for Asia’s future, particularly given vast socio-economic inequalities and environmental challenges in the region?

Ms Seddon: I think many companies are at the emerging stage with their ESG strategies. As companies develop these strategies, they will be engaging with all stakeholder groups, the biggest of which is the people it employs. I expect these numbers to reduce as I foresee companies take more care about these issues, particularly if they include employees in their decision making.

Unravel: In your opinion, are companies doing enough to satisfy employees’ desire to do something that has a societal purpose? Have you seen any changes in this respect in the past 2-3 years?

Ms Seddon: I prefer not to make blanket statements because every company is different. But I think if you look at an organisation’s stance on any topic, this stance is becoming very important for its employees. People will eventually vote with their feet—they will decide whether their head and heart are engaged with their employer. If they disagree with a company’s policies or actions, they will look for companies whose stance they believe more aligns with theirs.

Leaders must listen to the workforce and understand what their employees value. Those leaders that stick to a more traditional, dictatorial and hierarchical approach to leadership as opposed to a more people-centric, collaborative model, will lose talent. Given the skill shortage in the region, employee expectations have to be on the strategic agenda of any company.

The first part of this interview explores the impacts of the Great Resignation on companies and the key message that employees are conveying to employers. It can be read here.

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Norah Seddon
People & Organisation Asia Pacific leader at PwC

Norah leads PwC’s People & Organisation business in Australia and Asia-Pacific and is a member of PwC’s Board of Partners. She is also a member of the PwC Tax Leadership Team. Norah is a tax partner based in Sydney and has over 25 years of experience in providing services to global and Australian companies on tax and people matters including stock based compensation plans, managing employment costs and risks and developing policies and processes. She also works with individuals and families with international tax affairs and investments. She is passionate about using technology to allow our business to evolve and to create career paths for our people.

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