As the competition for labor in China becomes ever more intense businesses have started exploring new and innovative ways to attract new talent. In doing so they often overlook employee retention. Given that China has one of the highest turnover rates in the world, it is surprising that retention simply isn’t getting the attention it needs. So what’s to be done?
First, it’s important to recognize that managing staff in China can be completely different from managing staff in other countries. Foreign managers within large multinational corporations need to understand the differences or risk losing their staff.
For example, “coaching” does not exist in China. Managers do not work with an employee to set goals and empower them to develop their own skills and performance or guide them towards new learning. Instead, a more direct leadership/supervision style has to be used, and it can take long periods of time before coaching can even be considered.
Employees’ perceptions of managers are also different in China. Local employees view their manager as the epitome of the business – a “hero” of the company – rather than a facilitator working with staff to gain the best from the group. They expect their manager to know all and be all. In China, direction needs to be unequivocal and concrete. Communication flow should occur in very straight and stringent lines. Skipping a step, or going around a person, results in loss of face.
Companies need to recognize that front-line managers are the key to retention. Remember, people join companies, but leave people. Managers are at the coalface, so objectively assess their ability to motivate and inspire team members, manage good and bad performers and set useful goals. If training in any of these areas is required, arrange it.
Multinationals simply have to adapt to this way of management. Cultural awareness training is essential for any new manager to China.
Secondly, provide career progression opportunities for all staff. Lack of career progression is often the primary reason given by candidates when asked why they are looking for a new job, followed by a desire for new challenges. Interestingly, these two considerations are often given greater importance than salary.
Employees need to know more about promotional opportunities available, so communicate your plans for the future and don’t let employees become stagnant or bored. Every organization has different parameters within which it must work, but remember a retention plan including career development does not necessarily mean promotion, although it certainly can. It is as much about an employee’s ability to see a clear path of progress and know exactly what he or she needs to do to achieve it.
After the ink
Thirdly, plan to some extent a new employee’s first few weeks. Don’t forget that the process of recruiting a new staff member isn’t finished the day a contract is signed. Without an effective induction program, your new employee may feel that they don’t fit in and this could lead to a resignation.
An induction program builds confidence and competence at the commencement of the employment relationship. One approach is a buddy system, which involves a more experienced staff member working with a new employee to answer any questions and help the new employee integrate with their new work environment. This gives a new staff member exposure to senior people in the business and forces knowledge sharing.
It is important to remember that a “one size fits all” approach to retention will not work for all employees. But it is always the ground level manager’s role to work with staff, build their internal relationships and make them feel they are a valued part of the business’s bigger picture.
Everyone is unique, so recognize and utilize the unique talents of each staff member.
Emma Charnock is business director of Hays in Hong Kong and China. Hays is an international leader in specialist recruitment, recognized around the world with offices in 27 countries, including China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Australia, the UK and Europe. Learn more at www.hays.cn.