Wani Azahar speaks to HR leaders from Publicis, Halliburton, IKEA Southeast Asia, DBS Bank, Arrow Asia Pacific and more, on bridging the gaps in mobility.
From Employment Passes (EP) applications requiring more details on hiring practices, to mandatory orientation programmes for foreigners on work permits, Singapore has recently seen stricter rules for foreign workers and employing companies.
What’s more, Berry Appleman & Leiden (BAL) has reported that the “settling in” programme (to be launched in the second half of 2018) will see employers not only having to enroll their new foreign employees, but also pay for their course fees.
With such issues circling the mobility sphere today, HR leaders from Publicis, Halliburton, IKEA Southeast Asia, DBS Bank, Arrow Asia Pacific and more, share how they address these concerns – one step forward at a time.
Challenge #1: Local compliance
With Singapore being a cosmopolitan city, the challenge here is not about where you’re from or who you are – unlike those in more exclusive markets. However, it’s clear the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is serious about protecting the local workforce and moving towards stricter labor market rules testing in line with other countries’ practices.
In November 2017, MOM announced that companies applying for an EP would need to revamp their hiring practices, track each candidate through each stage of the recruitment process and be prepared to document the numbers of candidates as well as the reasons for hiring foreigners over local workers.
What’s more, the minimum fixed monthly salary required for EP and S Pass holders in Singapore to bring in family members on Dependant Passes will be increased to S$6,000 starting 1 January 2018.
This is an increase of 20% from the current qualifying salary of $5,000. This could mean that companies might be losing on great talent to comply with the new MOM laws. Sharing his opinion on working around this, Benjamin Roberts, former global talent acquisition leader from advertising firm Publicis, comments: “The real challenge here in Singapore is working around the new laws. They’ve really cracked down on those.”
With an 80,000-strong workforce, he believes that growing local talent is paramount. However, he also understands the need for more diversity in the workforce. When it comes to bringing great talent to the local workforce, he advises companies: “You will need to have conversations with them (the government). You definitely don’t want to get on their blacklist – be nice, present cases and allow them to understand your business.”
He also notes there’s a lot of foreigners who are not moving for the right reasons, despite the growing interest to move to Asia.
“What we are seeing is a lot of people wanting to come to Asia, but talent has to understand that it needs to be more than just a reason for ‘wanting to leave Europe’,” he says.
“There needs to be a stronger education process as assignees need to understand that it can be very different for country to country – whether in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and China.”
Just as it is essential to have open communication with the government, Roberts notes it is just as important to hold conversations with staff on understanding their objectives, lifestyles and struggles when it comes to relocation.
Challenge #2: Settling in
With the lack of cultural preparedness ranking among the top reasons for assignment failure, ensuring that staff settle in has never been more pertinent. After all, a failed international relocation is likely to have a devastating impact on the employee, the employee’s family and the employer. Joeri Gianotten, partner at AccelerAsia, told Human Resources that finding the right school for his daughter was one of the key challenges he faced as an expat and parent in Singapore.
Recalling how his daughter was just five years old then, he says: “As we were looking in April/May of that year, we had to look for a school which could let her in mid-term as we did not want to wait until after the summer. Of course, the first challenge was finding a school with that availability.”
“The second challenge was the cost. As we are paying for school ourselves, we were looking for a school with good quality, yet still affordable. Finally, the last challenge was on the year/grade our daughter had to start in as it was the first year she was going to school (she started a year late).
“Some schools wanted to put her in the class which was relevant for her age (five years old) while we wanted her to be in the class which was relevant for her development. However, not all schools understood that. We thought it was better to keep her one year behind.”
Having to speak to three different schools before making a decision, he says: “It would have been helpful to speak to parents who have children at the school, as this gives a different perspective then the school admin or admission department.”
Keeping that in mind, it’s the reason why companies such as Publicis make it a priority to ensure employees and their family members are properly settled in. “When people get moved over for roles, you want to make sure they’re settled when they come. You want to introduce them to the necessary people and share with them the places to go,” Roberts says.
“Those with families, you want to share with them the suitable schools for them. You also need to make sure their partners are settled in. You want to make sure they’re connected to the right people, build communities and not feel lonely. There is a support network we can provide.”
Challenge No.3: Designing the right expat package
According to Sow Chat Gan, Asia Pacific benefits director at Honeywell, designing a cost-effective mobility landing package, as well as meeting the relocating employee’s unique individualisation, needs to continue to be a priority in 2018.
Sharing the same sentiment, Tatsiana Lipik, HR supervisor at Halliburton, points out glocalisation as one of the key challenges in the mobility sphere. As one of the world’s largest oil field service companies, Halliburton has operations in more than 70 countries.
With a few offices in Singapore, its current expat package sees expats benefiting from basic salary, mobility premium, housing, car, payment of taxes in Singapore, schooling for kids, as well as a cost of living allowance (goods and services differentiation).
When it comes to crafting a customised transition package, Lipik says: “It’s always a case-by-case basis when it comes to our expat packages. Naturally, the staff does not want to lose the (expat) package. However, how do we make it beneficial for both business and employees?”
“For this, we go through thorough negotiations and conversations to come up with a proposal that’s savvy for both the company and assignee that’s being transferred to the local package.”
We go through thorough negotiations and conversations to come up with a proposal that’s savvy for both the company and assignee that’s being transferred to the local package.
– Tatsiana Lipik, HR supervisor at Halliburton
On the other hand of the spectrum, the challenge of creating the ideal package doesn’t only apply to new hires, but also long-serving employees. For example, IKANO’s workforce includes expatriates who have been with the company for an extended time. As the company behind IKEA’s retail success in Singapore, Malaysia, and more, the challenge also lies in retaining its “seasoned, senior co-workers in making the needed transition packages that include housing or schooling to local terms”.
Proving that an expat package is never a one-size-fits-all, Lydia Song, HR director for IKEA Southeast Asia, says: “We have a variety of mobility programmes to cater for different scenarios. It could be an international, domestic or return country mobility. Support for the relocation depends on the assignment types – short-term assignments, long-term contracts or a permanent transfer.”
As part of its efforts to expanding its workforce, IKEA Southeast Asia also reveals it’s escalating the process of recruiting talent from local markets and developing local succession. “We have a robust management and competence review process to develop local talent for key positions within Southeast Asia,” Song adds.
“We are continually communicating career development opportunities and openly sharing success stories to showcase co-workers who have made exciting moves.”
Challenge No.4: Employee’s self-fears
While the prior challenges may be directed at firms, one of the key challenges in mobility also lie in the assignees themselves. For example, the recently released, “The Global Asian Leader: From Local Star to Global CXO”, research by the Center for Creative Leadership cited key reasons for global assignment refusal include family concerns (38%), spouse’s/partner’s career (18%), candidate’s uncertainty if the reward is worthy of the move (16%), perceived insufficient compensation (15%) and location related concerns (4%).
Speaking to Human Resources on these fears, Lee Yan Hong, head of group human resources at DBS Bank, advises having very honest conversations with staff . Elaborating on the key drivers behind such conversations, she says: “I will first ask them – have you failed terribly in your entire life? If no, then why would you feel that you would fail on this?”
“Jokes aside, of course we put in other programmes to support them such as providing a mentor, a sponsor and sending them to training programmes. We need to ease their fears or anxiety of failing on the overseas assignment.”
With family concerns being the biggest fear of potential assignees, she strongly supports assignees to go with their family. “I would always tell seniors who are needed overseas to always go with their family. Otherwise, it won’t be balanced. Life has to be in equilibrium, and at peace before you can do (your work) well,” she says.
We need to ease their fears or anxiety of failing on the overseas assignment.
– Lee Yan Hong, head of group human resources at DBS Bank
To ensure the work-life balance is preserved even for overseas assignees, she tells how the bank is flexible with their expat packages when sending staff on short-term assignments. For example, some of the packages allow for more frequent visits home rather than having the family move for short-term assignments.
“All these help staff to overcome the fear. Of course, when they first start out in the new location, we would also need to actively follow up on how they’re coping overseas.”
Meanwhile, as a Fortune 500 company with 18,800 employees worldwide, Arrow Electronics also believes in developing its talent as part of its support in easing the anxiety of its staff gaining regional exposure.
Vivian Kwok, vice-president of human resources at Arrow Asia Pacific, says: “We are as committed to the individual success of our people as we are to that of the company. We encourage all employees to take an active role in managing their career, not only to support our global strategy, but also to advance themselves professionally.”
With talent development and mobility working in tandem, Arrow offers a leadership development programme for its sales and marketing leaders in Asia Pacific. According to Kwok, it is designed to build business-focused leaders who are able to think and act strategically and broadly about the business, and be strong people leaders.
The programme provides a great platform for talent to engage and build relationships with capable peers and senior management, and develop further from this collaborative network. On that note, she concludes: “Our multifaceted talent development programme provides employees internal career progression opportunities and broadens their exposure to the business. The programme facilitates knowledge transfer among employees and builds talent and succession pipelines. Employees are empowered to take charge of their career growth and development in partnering with their managers and HR.”
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