The Report from Asia: The Changing Face of the Asian Workforce

February 15

As consumers in North America, we all see the amazing transformation of the world economy and how these changes affect our daily lives. Whether you are speaking with a customer service representative in India about a discrepancy on your credit card statement, or you've just bought a new PC or mobile phone for less than you could have five years ago, it was certainly workers in Asia who are making many of these transformations possible.

At TMP, our role is to help you attract and source the best talent possible, whether that is in Chennai, India or Dalian, China - Taichung, Taiwan or Penang, Malaysia. These markets are quickly becoming as important to our global customers as Silicon Valley, Redmond and Research Triangle Park were five years ago.

In a monthly series, we will example key staffing issues that will affect, in some way or another, most of our American customers. Whether you are a hospital who might be outsourcing your medical transcriptions to India, or a logistics company needing to move goods from Vietnam to Chicago, we hope to share with you as we learn more about this dynamic part of the world.

One important caveat: Let's remember that Asia is a diverse region, made up of more than 40 countries, 50 different forms of government and 80 languages. While some of the trends we have identified can apply across the region, others are specific to one country or one region or even one target audience.

The key hiring markets of Asia can generally be broken down into two cultural regions:

China and Southeast Asia: Consensus-driven cultures that generally follow a pattern of Eastern values.

India: A massive market that generally follows Eastern life style values and Western (pro-American) business values.

In mid-2005, TMP conducted a study of the changing face of the Asian workforce. Through an online survey placed on job boards throughout the region, we "spoke" with almost 2,000 job seekers. In this article we examine one of the most interesting trends that affect both staffing and employee retention.

Job seekers in consensus-driven cultures of China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia have unique career drivers.

The strongest collectivist, or socially oriented cultures in Asia, are China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. In these cultures, the focus is on collective problem solving and maintaining a friendly atmosphere - not just at work, but also in most areas of everyday life.

In America, we are comfortable and even expect to survive and thrive in a task-oriented, "get the job done" work environment. Individual goals (whether sales-, performance- or management-based) are the norm. Individual competition is part of our workday.

Conversely, in the collectivist cultures, the key desire is for harmony, hierarchy and saving face. In markets like China, socially oriented employees can feel uncomfortable in a highly individualistic company. One Chinese engineer told us, "Foreign companies have been here less than a decade. The cultures are not well mixed. State-owned companies feel better. There is less pressure than at a multinational."

Interestingly enough, though, the concept of face and status works as an attractor for many. Brand recognition is very important to the collectivist culture. Instant recognition by one's peers invokes feelings of pride and a sense of belonging. A tech support worker in Dalian, China told us, "Working for a famous international brand makes me feel proud of myself."

From a communications perspective, collectivist cultures can also be understood as "high context." What this means is that words are not as important as context, which might include the recruiter's tone of voice, his or her facial expressions and gestures. High-context communication tends to be more indirect and more formal.

Here is an example: A Japanese manager explained his communication style to an American. "We are a homogeneous people and don't have to speak as much as you do here. When we say one word, we understand ten, but here (in America) you have to say ten to understand one." Edward T. Hall

What are the immediate implications for staffing? First, and most importantly, you must determine if your company's individualist culture is out of sync in a collectivist society. If so, this has implications for all levels of your business and is something that might be leading to higher turnover levels within your organization in parts of Asia.

In terms of attracting the right kind of talent that will fit in with your culture and remain as long-term employees, you should refocus your recruiting to appeal to those who seek consensus.

For example, use images in your recruiting materials (both printed materials and on your career website) that are group images rather than individuals. Use less copy and more symbols. Don't forget the high-touch aspects of recruiting (that's a lesson for all cultures!). And finally, take great care to nurture employees as they join the organization and adapt to your individualist culture.

Join us next month as we examine another driver of the Asian workforce: The viewpoint of the multinational as "employer of choice" in Asia.

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