the various discussions happening at the World Economic Forum 2018 in Davos last week / month was
the theme, “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World.” Indeed, the world
continues to suffer debilitating fractures on so many fronts – climate change, social
inequality and political polarisation to name a few – bringing world leaders
from governments, major international businesses and non-profit organisations together
once again to find common ground and actionable steps for the world.
At the panel session
on the overarching theme, moderated by the International Monetary Fund’s Managing
Director Christine Lagarde, one of the cracks raised for discussion was the
impact of globalisation on the workforce. Specifically, how it has resulted in
vast unemployment, generations of young people without hope and turning to
crime or even terrorism, marginalised workers in the informal economy … all of
whom have now become the “modern slaves” in our global economy.
In the words
of Sharon Burrow, General Secretary at the International Trade Union
Confederation (ITUC), “we’ve denied people, despite being three times richer in
thirty years.” We live in an increasingly fractured world where change is
inevitable and we need to prepare people for this new world so that they don’t
fall through the cracks.
workplace, itself a microcosm of civil society and the economy, is too undergoing
disruptive change; from the way day-to-day business is run and how employees
interact with each other, to the very thing that incentivises workforce
Kong’s workforce may not be experiencing the same plight of unemployment and surge
in street-side business seen in other markets across the region, the city has
its own set of ‘cracks’ to deal with.
perception about Hong Kong’s working professionals is that they are typically
highly ambitious, continuously seeking to increase their income – their main
driver. However, there’s a shift taking place, away from monetary rewards. In Hong Kong’s already extremely fast-paced
and demanding working environment, the lines between work and private life are
blurring even further as technology makes employees better connected and
‘always-on’ through their mobiles and other devices. And as a result, there’s a
new finite commodity in demand: personal time.
attractive salary package may have been the way to retain and motivate talent
up until recently, it is no longer as high up a prospect’s list of
considerations. Today, even a flight – traditionally an email-free sanctuary
for travelling executives – is no longer free of work’s daily pressures as new
demands fly in, on-the-go.
Remuneration in a technological revolution: personal time
the 2017 Robert Half Salary Guide, many Hong Kong employees now regard work-life
balance options as more attractive than a higher pay. Approximately four in ten
of Hong Kong workers surveyed are willing to accept less pay in exchange for
flexible working hours (42 percent), or prefer the option to work from home
over a salary increase (39 percent).i
uncovered similar sentiments in its annual survey of Hong Kong graduates. Last
year’s student poll revealed work-life balance to be the top career goal among
more than two thirds (68 percent) of those who participated, as compared to
just over half (53 percent) four years ago.ii
the workplace has become increasingly important as it contributes to a
satisfied, motivated, productive and loyal workforce. These non-monetary
benefits range from additional holidays to flexible working hours and the
option to work from home; the latter becoming highly sought-after by Hong
Kong’s working professionals.
has become highly imperative as well, given workplace and workforce models have
shifted and continue to shift away from the traditional ones employers are
familiar with. Teams expect to collaborate across time and space, and companies
have begun incorporating automation and even artificial intelligence into their
workflows to optimise this connected, yet physically disconnected, approach to
A more dynamic career ladder, negating the linear model
We now also have
a labour market characterised by shorter-term work that is more varied, more
unpredictable and devoid of boundaries. These conditions have combined to shift
the responsibility for managing careers from the employer towards the
individual. ? The old days
of clear career trajectories and stable employment are over.
As a new set
of career aspirations and demands, innovative work-enablers and widening
diversity in employees emerge, forcing cracks through the old work system, we
need to think about how best we can manage these changes and create a new model
where everyone is given equal opportunities to adapt and succeed.
We need to
negotiate a new social contract in the workforce, one that prioritises life-long
learning and re-training for both employee and employer.
waiting for the next promotion, employees now expect to actively seek out
opportunities to develop, renew, and enhance their skills and capabilities to
adapt to the challenges posed by constant change in the wider economy. And this
is only possible with the support of governments and companies coming together
to provide ample learning tools and platforms, and employees themselves proactively
voicing out their suggestions and feedback.
Continuous, self-managed, learning
career management is especially important for older employees who find
themselves on the wrong end of a significant gap in skills and wages between
them and their younger counterparts. The launch of the SkillsFuture movement in
Singapore, a collaboration between public and private sector, reflects this
growing emphasis on self-driven career management, in which individuals embrace
the concept of lifelong learning with a focus on the mastery of new skills and
For this new
social contract to achieve its purpose, both employer and employee must
recognise what their new roles entail.
managing their own growth is akin to running an enterprise, where decisions
entail investment, risk and even sacrifice in pursuit of long-term career and
life goals. An entrepreneurial mindset is vital. You need to take charge by
constantly seeking out opportunities to deepen and expand skill sets. You need
to take risks.
Broader skill sets and greater choice
21st-century workplace requires workers to take on an increasing array of
responsibilities, many of which will be unfamiliar to the current workforce in many
parts of Asia, including Hong Kong, who trained in a system focused on highly-specialised
individuals for particular vocations.
reinvention is thus required. Medical doctors, lawyers, teachers, and research
scientists are taking on leadership responsibilities. Professionals need to
innovate and start new systems, practices and enterprise.
not off the hook either. They need to create an ecosystem where entrepreneurial
career activity can thrive. Employers can offer incentives such as upgrades in responsibilities
and pay scale for those who learn new skills and knowledge.
need to be flexible to incorporate individual choice and customisation since
career pathways are now so varied. For example, individuals should choose
between developing their careers in terms of growing deeper in knowledge and
skills in their area of expertise, or climbing the proverbial corporate ladder,
or focusing on innovation by heading new enterprises or initiatives.
fail to understand that their employees increasingly want work to be a part of
who they are (not just a way to make a living), that their biggest fear is not
finding a job that matches their personality and that they need inspiring
leadership, are bound to face significant challenges when it comes to securing
their future talent pipeline.
Mitigating the cracks through building more flexible workplace
the growing preference for work-life balance over pay raises in Hong Kong, work
structures that champion individual autonomy and choice play a prominent role
in encouraging entrepreneurial career investments.
personalised work arrangements negotiated between employer and employee
facilitate the customisation of work around the needs of both parties. For
example, an employee with childcare responsibilities can schedule times to be
at the office that coincide with hours when his or her children are at school.
employee can also telecommute on certain days of the week if travelling to the
workplace is inconvenient. A supportive social network of supervisors, peers
and subordinates can help workers strike a balance between delivering on
immediate work responsibilities and future investments in one’s career.
The days of
one-sided employer-driven approaches to career management are over. Preparing
Hong Kong’s global workforce for the uncertain and complex challenges ahead is
now a shared responsibility between individuals and their employers.
have to be more proactive, strategic and entrepreneurial in choosing where and
how they are going to invest their time and resources in the interest of
achieving career goals. But
this new social contract, one that will ultimately create a shared future – despite
the fractured society we face today – starts from within the company.