Senior Client Partner
Future of Work
How APAC leaders can retain millennial talent
Korn Ferry's research identified three trends shaping workplaces in the future - and the approach leadership should take to attract and retain new talent.
How APAC leaders can retain millennial talent
Global research suggests talent is thinking in months (not years) when it comes to career planning. But this is nothing new in the Asia-Pacific, where the average tenure for digital talent is as low as 21 months.
Korn Ferry recently spoke to 4,000 UK and US professionals from 25 industries about the organizational issues keeping them up at night. The research identified three trends shaping workplaces in the future — and the need for a more intentional approach to leadership. To successfully navigate change and retain high performers in the current market, leaders will need to ensure their actions align with a clear vision — and be proactive in understanding what their talent needs.
Asia-Pacific leaders face different challenges than their northern hemisphere counterparts. The region is forecast to grow faster than any other in the world in 2023, fueled by strong economic expansion in mainland China, India and ASEAN.
It’s already facing a talent scarcity crisis, with more jobs than people. The average APAC employee age is typically lower than in North America and Europe, especially in less developed countries like Vietnam and Indonesia.
APAC is also facing a growing digital skills gap, with estimates that about 86 million workers will need retraining with advanced digital skills to match the pace of technological change.
These factors mean talent retention is an even greater priority for APAC leaders. And now, they also need to think about building businesses that millennials (aged 27 to 42) will want to lead — and giving them the skills and exposure to do so.
Almost six in 10 employees told Korn Ferry they’d leave their job for one they were less interested in if it offered a higher salary. But although pay is a big motivator, APAC employees are looking for even more.
“They’ll jump for the whole package,” says Seiyi Goh, a Korn Ferry Senior Client Partner based in Singapore. “An aligned sense of purpose, amazing workplace, inclusive team culture, beautiful collaboration spaces. And, most importantly, growth opportunities.”
According to Goh, managers can increase low average tenure by intentionally helping employees with learning and development opportunities. “It’s inevitable that most employees will eventually leave — you have to accept it. But if they have a better experience with your business, they will become stronger advocates for your brand. And they may return, more experienced and with even more to offer.”
Eugene Chang, Korn Ferry Managing Director, Consulting (Singapore) agrees. “Good talent always has choices," he says. “Once they’ve received a more attractive offer, it may be late to create a better role.”
Leaders will need to be more proactive and transparent in how they present and package career growth. “They cannot assume everyone is fine, because good performers know their existing skillsets have an expiry date, and they want to get the most from their careers right now,” says Chang.
Often, people will job-hop to learn more about themselves and what their capabilities are. So intentional leaders can also foster that self-awareness from within, providing transparent career path rotations, exposure to unexpected learning opportunities, and access to coaches and mentors both inside and outside the organization.
Millennials make up 24% of Asia’s population — more than any other region in the world. And with baby boomers shifting gears into retirement, they’re about to step up into leadership roles. But are they ready? And is your organization ready for them?
While millennials might be thinking short-term about their career, their sense of purpose is more aspirational. Korn Ferry’s global research suggests more than 60% feel more inspired at a company with a good ESG policy — and they’d be more loyal to that company, too.
That’s why intentional leaders are making long-term ESG and DEI strategies clear and tangible. And they’re finding ways to connect roles with each individual’s personal values.
“Give young leaders more autonomy to run projects that have the potential to create impact beyond the business,” suggests Chang. In turn, this will help them develop their own leadership capabilities. “Future leaders learn through experiences — exposure to high work variety, global assignments and job rotations. As well as fostering a mindset of constant learning, it is important to embed constant teaching — as you coach and mentor others, you become better at it yourself,” he explains.
Stretch opportunities can be challenging, but they also help future leaders gain empathy. And Chang believes that’s the most important mindset future leaders need to embrace.
How we work has changed for good, yet many workplace cultures are struggling to keep up. Globally, hybrid work is fueling a growing sense of isolation — which is yet another challenge for retention. 52% of US and UK workers say working from home leaves them feeling disconnected from their colleagues, and that could be enough to make them look for work elsewhere.
In the Asia-Pacific, leaders are being more strategic as to how and why they bring people together. It makes sense to learn and collaborate together, to share ideas and get to know each other more personally. Home becomes the place where focused work gets done.
“Culturally, people tend to come together over food here. So this is one opportunity to give more people a reason to come in and feel a sense of community — whether it’s Monday breakfast catch-ups or Friday after-work drinks,” suggests Goh.
However, more fundamental changes need to happen at a leadership level to empower productive flexible working. Asian companies have traditionally been more hierarchical or used directive leadership models, where younger employees may not feel as safe to speak up or challenge in meetings.
That approach won’t cut it with the next generation of leaders — nor will it create a more adaptable, agile and innovative culture. Instead, leaders will need to set up a culture where it’s safe to take risks, and failure is not only tolerated, but expected.
“With so much disruption outside the organization, the last thing you need is disruption inside — especially with your high performers,” says Chang. “You might end up with an ‘hourglass’ shaped workforce with a narrowing pipeline of future leaders in the middle.”
Talent retention will continue to underpin business stability, especially where there is a current talent-skills mismatch in the market. The solution lies in these three trends. Give future leaders growth opportunities to develop emotional intelligence, agility and self-awareness; provide a strong and genuine sense of purpose; and take personal action to promote an empowering workplace culture. Focusing on these workplace aspects will take your organization even further in the future.
To learn more, download The Future of Work in 2023.