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Requisite HR Strategies In Growing Asian Economies

Prof. Somesh Dhamija


If you are of opinion that the availability of skilled Human Resource is tough in the developed countries, correct yourself: It is much tight in Asia.

"In the United States we have five to ten good candidates for every job opening. In Asia, for every five openings, there's one qualified candidate," Ames Gross, president, Pacific Bridge, Washington, D.C. (consulting and search firm that specializes in Asia).

"It would not be unusual for a Chinese manager to move every 12 months, doubling his salary each time," Neil Anthony, vice president, organization and people capability, Pepsi-Cola International in Somers, N.Y.

Analyzing the situation there is no doubt to say that businesses in the developing countries of Asia are growing three times faster than in the United States, but availability of skilled human resource is not growing in the same ratio. No wonder, then, that Malaysia requires almost twice as many engineers as it produces each year, and South Korea estimates that it needs 3,40,000 engineers - 60,000 more than it is graduating.

Other then shortage of skilled employees there are lot many H.R. issues in growing Asian economies.

"what works for U.S. companies at home does not always work in Asia", Murray Dalziel, president of Hay/McBer, a management development firm with 40 consultants in Asia. Dalziel notes that "in Anglo-Saxon countries, we hire people for what they can deliver. It doesn't matter whether we like them. In Asian cultures, it matters what you're like as a person. To be effective, a manager must be liked and respected.

HR professionals not only face a serious staffing shortage in Asia, they also face cultural differences that often clash with traditional HR management styles.

"Asian workers want an environment that provides respect, understanding, a chance to grow and learn, and a place they can feel a part of." While money is important to Asian workers, it is less of a priority than this feeling of respect and belonging" Jerry Maurer, senior vice president, world wide human resources, Seagate Technologies.

From all these quots it is clear to understand that Asian Countries have unique H.R. issues which are entirely different then rest of the world. In this changing scenario, organization of developing Asian countries are facing incredible number of pressures, like: -

Environmental Pressures - such as increasing globalization, rapid technological change and tougher competition,

Organizational Changes - such as new organizational alliances, new structures & hierarchies, new ways of organizing work.

A Very High Rate of Change - such as changes in workforce, changes in employees Priorities and changing demographic characteristics.


Availability of Skilled employees in the growing Asian economies are now a scarce resource. , therefore HR managers in Asia are struggling to identify good prospects, train them, and hold them long enough to make their efforts fruitful. Challenge is not only to recruit prospective employees, but to retain them in the organization along with a high degree of commitment & morale. In so many cases, it is a observed that the money spent in recruiting talent is wasted. "The best performers turn into slow performers and have to quit or be expelled,". The result is a double loss: "organization not only loses a good employee, but also gets affected by negative word of mouth publicity in the market.
In changing rules of the game one should not expect that proper recruitment, selection, motivation, training strategies or money alone can win and retain talents in organization for a long time, specially in present global scenario. Asian Countries differs a lot with European countries in Culture, Life Style, Economic Status & Family structure, therefore all tailor made HR Strategies can not work effectively here.

Before we make an attempt to design most suitable HR strategies to ensure employee stability and commitment towards organization, let's look at some of the major problems emerging in growing Asian Countries at employee as well as employer end due to changing work environment.


Law energy level i.e. burnout
Lack of time
Guilt about not being able to do it all
Lack of Control on work
Social obligations
Elder Care


Low productivity
Higher absenteeism
Low Morale
High turnover

In the Quest to overcome from all such challenges, Human Resource professionals of developing Asian countries will have to re-evaluate their role in business world. Their role must be parallel to the needs of changing business environment. Their role can be assumed as a strategic partner, an employee advocate and a change Champion.

Strategic Partner – Contribution to the development of & the accomplishment of the organization wide business plan and objectives.

Employee Advocate - expertise in how to create a work environment in which people will choose to be motivated & happy.

Change Champion –To minimize employee dissatisfaction & resistance to change for the strategic implementation of policies & programs.

In the light of all above mentioned facts effective and efficient use of Human Resource in Growing Asian Countries can be ensured by adopting Balancing Work/life Strategies/ Techniques.

What is Work / Life Balance?

While working with any organization many of us complain that we don't have enough time for our personal life. As a human being, outside of work employees have personal responsibilities and needs, whether it is the caring of children or elderly parents or the pursuit of personal interests, activities or hobbies. Due to day by day becoming complex nature of jobs, employees find themselves in a helpless condition to devote enough time to look after their family, to participate in social events & to fulfill their so many other family responsibilities, which needs time. Inability to devote due time to their family responsibilities leads employees towards frustration & mental stress which results in lower level of commitment & loyalty, lower productivity, absenteeism & turnover. An organization invests so much in training their staff & executives that it cannot afford to loose these assets. It is therefore; they offer their employees little autonomy & flexibility to find ways to accommodate their responsibilities and needs without harming organizational work. This concept is known as balancing work/life. In early stage these programs were primarily concerned to support women with children, today work life programs are less-gender specific & recognize other commitments of an employee as well as those of family.

Different Viewpoints

Work /life balance from employee viewpoint

The dilemma of managing work obligations and personal/family responsibilities.
The push & pull between work & family responsibilities

Work/life balance from employer viewpoint

The challenge of creating a supportive company culture where employee can focus on their jobs while at work.

Adopting work/life strategies - Profit & nonprofit organizations have experimented with formal & informal policies and guidelines, in their quest to help employees manage work/life effectively. Some of the policies adopted by organizations are as follows.

Flexible Work Arrangement - Flexible work arrangements are alternate arrangements from the traditional working day and week. Employees may choose a different work schedule to meet personal or family needs. Flexible work arrangements develop trust on the part of both employer & employees and help employees to balance there work/life properly.

Some of the common flexible work arrangement are-

Flex -Time - It is an arrangement employee works for full duty hours but he can adjust his working hour. The total hours of work are not usually affected by this arrangement. For example- employee may choose to start between 8:00 to 10:00 AM &may finish between 3:00 to 5:00 PM, Here the core hours will be 10:00 to 3:00 when all employees will be at work.

Reduced hours/Part-time - Employees may choose to work less then the standard hours work week. These arrangements may be on a temporary or permanent basis depending on individual circumstances. It may also be considered in some cases for employees with health problems or disabilities..

Compressed work week - Compressed work week occurs when an employee works for longer periods of time per day or shift in exchange for a day off. Employees may start earlier or finish later that the normal work day. Compressed work week gives opportunity to an employee to spare his full day to fulfill his personal responsibilities.

Telework / Telecommuting - By using Internet or telephone, people may perform some of their regular work from home instead of going into the office. It gives them little autonomy to fulfill their personal responsibilities.

Job sharing - If organizational norms permit, employees may choose to share their jobs. Job sharing occurs when two or more people share one or more positions or set of duties.

Banking of Hours/ Annualized hours - This arrangement allows employees to choose their days and hours of work to the maximum for a set period of time. This period of time may be weekly, monthly or yearly. Such arrangements are often a combination of flex time and compressed work week and can help reduce the amount of overtime hours required..

Gradual Retirement - Gradual retirement allows employees to reduce their working hours or reduce their workload over a period of time rather than immediately switching from full time employment to retirement. This period can be used to train the replacement employee and help others to adjust for the redistribution of tasks among the remaining employees.

Family friendly workplaces - Only when an employee loves his work there will be a better chance of quality output. For that to happen, the surrounding around him need to be of his liking. Employees today are often juggling work & family responsibilities therefore they are looking to their workplace to provide some relief, support and practical solutions to their busy and stressful lives.

Employees Assistance Programs
- Employees assistance programs offered by many employers, are an excellent resource for balancing work/life of those employees who are under stress. EAP provides a range of services, from drug and alcohol abuse, counseling to addressing family and marriage problems, financial & legal difficulties and stress related problems.

Child and Eldercare Services - In Asian countries number of working women is increasing day by day. Women have the additional responsibility of taking care of children needs. Having preschool children puts more pressure on mothers, their health, food & general well being keeps her in stress all the times. As a result of growing awareness of work/life balance issues many organizations are providing on site childcare & many more similar facilities.
One of the most significant trends in work/life balance is the increasing focus on eldercare. A growing number of companies are offering a range of eldercare services such as elder care referral services, emergency elder care, subsidy of elder care cost and paid elder care. EAP can also play an important role in an organization's elder care program.

Health & Wellness Initiatives
- Researches shown that high job pressures together with low job control can negatively influence employee's health. If high job pressures and low job control are combined with a lot of home stress and lack of support, then all of these elements become risk factors and affects ones mental & physical health. Keeping employees happy & healthy is in the best interest of any organization. Organizations are now providing health club facility, free dietician consultancy for eating habits, psychologists consultation for limiting alcohol consumption & smoking habits and organizing stress management workshops for ensuring proper health & wellness of employees.

Leaves of absence - Assistance by way of different forms of leaves increases employee commitment towards organization & motivates to fulfill their duties in flexible way. Leaves like maternity leave, educational leave medical leave strengthens a strong knot of relationship between employer & employees.

Total Life planning - Total life planning is a new and innovative approach of Human Resource management. Which helps employees examine important aspects of their professional and personal lives. By total life planning, organizations encourage employees to look at their lives as a whole and assess relationship, emotional and physical well being, careers, and their personal financial situations. From these programs, employees can assess their available choices to improve their lives and develop an individualized life plan. One of the major benefits is renewed employee energy, enthusiasm for work, and increased productivity,

Challenges to Work/Life Balance

Organizational Culture - Organization culture should be open and ready to support work/life programs. Work/life programs require support from senior management. It is therefore a challenge for organization to develop a corporate culture that encourages employees to look at work in an entirely different way and supports and accepts employees as individuals with priorities beyond the workplace

Stage of Life Cycle - Life cycles are another consideration. People need different things at different times of their lives. Employers are realizing that work should be intrinsically interesting and satisfying to employees and their stage in life cycle does matters a lot in designing Work/ life policy for them.

Equitability - One of the challenges of work/life initiatives--from both the employer and the employee viewpoint--is equitability. When organizations are establishing work/life programs, it is important to consider the purpose of the programs and whom they serve. Programs should be just & equitable in regard to employee needs.

Employees Perception - Perception of employee regarding authenticity of organizational efforts in implementing work/life programs is a challenge. There are results which confirms that a supportive work/family culture is closely related to work attitudes and perception of employee.

Communication - Communication about work/life programs is essential. Although an organization may offer a range of work/life benefits, the desired positive effect may not come if employees do not know about the programs or understand them. Human resource professionals should ensure that company culture should truly support work/life benefits, the management philosophy, starting with senior management to middle and lower management, should sincerely endorse work/life benefits and employees should be aware of and do understand the company's work/life programs.

The Employer's Perspective: Return on Investment (ROI)
An employer's commitment to work/life initiatives is influenced by the perception of whether or not such initiatives have a positive return on investment. In recent years, employers increasingly realize that the quality of an employee's personal and family life impacts work quality and that there are concrete business reasons to promote work and family integration.

Some key factors to be considered in measuring ROI of work/life programs are as follows:

Saving of Employee Time - One of the most direct and measurable financial benefits of work/life initiatives is the amount of time saved by employees by using assistance, such as an EAP, to address and solve personal problems. That saved time is usually utilized by employee in concentrating on job.

Employee Retention - The cost of employee turnover and accompanying loss of valuable company knowledge can be significant. A good Work/life programs is very effective solution to retain employees and to allow organization to continue it's work efficiently.

Increased Motivation and Productivity - Research indicates that company commitment to work/life initiatives is closely associated with employee motivation and productivity. A study revealed that employees may refuse a promotion if the new position would leave them with less time for their personal or family life.

Reduced Absenteeism - Research has documented that work/life programs can reduce absenteeism. Employees who uses flexible work options and family leave policies feels themselves more comfortable to work with same organization

Decreased Health Care Costs and Stress-Related illnesses
With increasing company focus on the high cost of health care, work/life programs are becoming an intelligent choice to help lower the number of health care claims. An Effective work/life program can assist employee to reduce the level of stress which leads to reduction in stress related illness

Consequence of Ignoring Work/life Issues - If work/life issues are ignored, the end result may have a negative impact on both the employee and the organization. Due to a shrinking workforce both in developed & developing countries, employers must be more concerned about why people leave.

When work/life issues are ignored, organizations run the risk of losing talented and trained people as well as potential employees to move towards work/life "friendly" organizations. Implementing work/life policies always need not to be costly affair for the organization. It is a well accepted fact that the most basic work/life need of employees is respect, regardless of the number of benefits/services offered by the organization, if employees do not feel respected they are more likely to leave.

Economically, it may be more costly to the organization to replace an employee. When costs of recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and training each new staff member are considered, along with additional cost of time and energy of the organization, it is most of the time in the favour of the organization to retain the same employee with some additional advantages. Employees may be adversely affected both physically and emotionally, resulting in increased health care costs, higher turnover, and employee burnout.

Conclusion - In today's global marketplace, as companies aim to reduce costs, Human Resource Management can play a significant role. Work/life programs have the potential to significantly improve employee morale, reduce absenteeism, and retain organizational knowledge.

As the number of working women is rising with each passing day, there is a need for organizations to look beyond their corporate goals. More and more working women and men are looking for companies that will be supportive to help them to balance their work/life. People are attracted to the companies that offer flexibility in an environment where they can have an interesting career. Senior management needs to be role models through their words and actions and regularly evaluate whether organizational policies continue to meet employee needs. By recognizing the changing needs of employees at different points in their lives and careers, organizations of Growing Asian Countries can Move towards a brighter tomorrow.

Somesh Dhamija
Management Consultant & Trainer, Mathura , India.
and Calcutta.