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How to boost productivity & engagement within 2019's challenging macro-economic climate

How to boost productivity & engagement within 2019's challenging macro-economic climate

As the Chinese economy slows to more modest & sustainable GDP growth rates, organisations in China are by no means losing steam. According to the 2019 Hays Asia Salary Guide, three in five organisations throughout the country remain optimistic about business activity in the coming 12 months. This is despite the macro-economic uncertainties, and reflects ongoing confidence & sentiment that China continues to have one of the most attractive markets in the world.

Businesses are therefore urged be unwavering in their commitment to the long-term investment & planning needed to succeed in China, continuing to drive their growth through increases in productivity and investment in human capital. A resilient, agile and productive business will no doubt find a way to thrive, regardless of the challenges ahead.

Here are some simple & powerful ways to boost your organisation's productivity & engagement in the year ahead:


Expose your leaders to an International playing field

In the latest Hays DNA of a CFO report, in which we surveyed 160 Chinese CFOs, we discovered that of the 42 per cent who have worked outside of Asia at some point of their careers, four in five (78 per cent) of them said that overseas exposure has considerably benefitted their careers and their contributions to their organisations. Over the years, this becomes increasingly apparent in China’s accounting and finance departments as they shift from being administrative, labour-intensive units to functions that lean more towards business advisory and strategic planning.

Exposing your leaders to the international playing field can certainly broaden their perspectives and allows them to lead the organisation with fresh ideas on how to enhance existing processes, services, products and offerings. Whether it is through exchange programmes, promoting regular conversations between overseas counterparts, attending global forums or seminars, the key is to encourage international engagements, interactions and learning opportunities that spark creativity and innovation, ultimately boosting bottom lines.

There are plenty of success stories in China, especially in the technology & pharmaceutical sectors, where organisations have been able to leverage the international knowledge & talent to greatly benefit their leadership teams in China. It does require some strategic planning & strong collaboration between Executive, HR and Line Management - but the benefits of getting it right are significant.


Retrain and upskill your employees... with a Purpose!

Cutting down on training might intuitively seem like a good cost and time-saving tactic in times of economic uncertainty. However, it may also inadvertently lead to missed opportunities, stagnating people development and a limited ability to adapt to changing trading conditions quickly enough.

The majority of Chinese businesses (68 per cent) feel that productivity is the key area in which skills shortages have had a negative impact on their organisations. With that in mind, how are organisations alleviating skills shortage to drive productivity?

Well, we can see the ongoing investment in new technology & AI, with almost three in five of them (57 per cent) saying that automation has already had an impact on their job responsibilities. However, most organisations actually cite the ‘lack of training and professional development available’ for their top talent, as the core reason behind skills shortages impacting productivity. This reflects a rapidly growing focus to promote or hire based on seeing the right "soft skills" in top talent, and leads to an important question - how much investment is your organisation truly making in upskilling & developing your talent to success in tomorrow's workforce? That answer for many organisations may unfortunately be: "not enough".

Equipping your employees with skills needed in the future World of Work will improve the efficiency of your current workforce, while making it extremely resilient & agile. However, doing so without a clear purpose & context would be pointless & costly. Harvard Business Review aptly cites three main conditions employers need to consider in planning and implementing a successful training and development strategy: (1) making sure that internal systems support the newly desired behaviour, (2) ensuring that there is commitment by employees to change in the first place, and most importantly, (3) assessing whether the training solution is in line with strategic priorities. Training and development programmes should be a well-planned proactive initiative, rather than a reactive one.

The additional employee engagement that can be generated through well-designed & implemented L&D programs should also not be overlooked or underestimated. Giving your employees a voice in the project can quickly lead to new learning styles & methods, innovative ways to apply new skills, and overall ownership of a programs implementation & outcomes. Linking engagement to development can potentially improve efficiency & productivity, whilst simultaneously boosting overall morale & retention


Actively promote Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) practices

The business case for D&I is not a new one in China and, although our recent research suggests that some businesses are now putting formal practices in place, there is still significant room to improve. Adherence to these policies will be the next challenge, requiring a strong top-down commitment from executive leadership teams to change the D&I culture, and ensure it is supported & embedded by strong educational and training programs for Line Managers.

While diversity does not guarantee profit, according to McKinsey & Company, “correlation does indicate that when companies commit themselves to diverse leadership, they are more successful [and], more diverse companies are better able to win top talent and improve their customer orientation, employee satisfaction, and decision making, and all that leads to a virtuous cycle of increasing returns.”

Notwithstanding financial forecasts, companies could benefit from applying whole systems thinking to diversity instead of focusing on just hitting KPI targets; often, the “inclusion” aspect of the equation is overlooked and as a result, while a business might have a diverse workforce, it is often a disengaged one.

Not only does having an inclusive workforce spur continuous innovation, it also strengthens a company’s propensity to retain their best talents in the face of hiring freezes and lower wage growth in tightening economic conditions.



In less certain economic conditions, it may seem counter-intuitive to actually increase medium- and long-term investments in human capital. However, research & experience would suggest that successful organisations often realise this is the perfect time to be fully leveraging & engaging their most valuable resource... their people. Whichever industry you are operating in, there is simply nothing that can beat the win-win from getting the very best out of your workforce now, while enhancing the ability of your future leaders to successfully steer the organisation in tomorrow's World of Work.