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Employees calling the shots – how can employers adapt?


In the past, businesses dictated the terms of employment. They called the shots about how, when and where people worked, and still had candidates banging at the gates to be let in. Even now, whether it’s a fresh grad keen to join the hallowed ranks of investment bankers, or a trainee lawyer eager to join the Magic Circle, major corporations continue to prove the most alluring to hopeful graduates.

But some of these types of companies have reputations for propagating burnout culture. According to a 2021 survey by Kisi, Hong Kong has the world’s most overworked population. Climbing the career ladder often meant working 48 hours a week without overtime pay. This used to be the norm, but views may be shifting as the post-pandemic labour market tightens up, with some employers starting to rethink the way they manage people, ensuring a positive employee experience.

Compared to Europe and the United States, remote work has gained less traction in many parts of Asia. The problem with maintaining flexible work arrangements is that sometimes they are rooted in mistrust between employers and employees. Employers fear that employees will abuse their privileges, while employees fear that spending less time in the office than their co-workers will hurt their career.

Still, a global survey conducted by Cigna revealed that half the respondents from Hong Kong preferred to be able to work from home. A hybrid model seems to be emerging from the pandemic, with reduced days in the office and more flexibility to work remotely.


The question for employers is, how can they adapt?

 It starts with rethinking hierarchy. Employers can’t take a top-down approach to management; they need to understand what’s happening on the ground and adjust their strategy. Many have seen the benefits of increased flexibility in both their professional and personal lives during the pandemic – and many would like these benefits to continue.

Despite fears amongst businesses, providing flexibility doesn’t lead to disengagement. If anything, it makes employees more connected to leaders and more engaged by promoting a culture of trust. Leaders can’t rule with an iron fist; they need to listen to employee pain points and ensure they are managing flexibly in the right way.

The harsh truth for businesses is that employees will leave if they don’t like the work environment. And what employees want from their work environment is more autonomy; our research, The Agile Age of HR, found that career progression was the greatest concern for people under 40, with half (49%) ranking it highly. Given the importance of career progression, employers need to enable employees to be individuals, to work on their own terms, by accommodating flexibility for new working schedules.

As restrictions lift, how businesses adapt to the return to the office will undoubtedly remain in the spotlight. The future could be more agile and flexible, where workspace is optimised. And employers who don’t offer this flexibility should remember that competing firms can and will. CEOs can’t just dictate the terms of employee engagement – it has to be a mutual conversation, or staff churn may be on the cards.

Read more on The Age of Agile HR in our e-book:

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