The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t just create an unprecedented health crisis globally but also a wave of employee resignations that crippled the labor market. The Great Resignation, as it’s called, started in the US in the spring of 2021, with workers expressing a decline in morale at work or a desire to switch careers. Throughout 2021, 47.8 million American workers quit their jobs, an average of nearly 4 million every month, data from Society for Human Resource Management show.
But in Southeast Asia — home to 350.5 million workers — the reality was different. A survey by Robert Walters in June 2022 found that the region experienced a ‘Not-so-Great’ resignation: Lesser number of employee departures, higher retention rates.
“Southeast Asian professionals have indeed thought of resigning/changing their jobs, but a large portion is not resigning yet. They are likely to remain in their current roles until they decide their next career moves,” the global recruitment consultancy firm wrote in its Southeast Asia Reality Check: The ‘Not-so-Great’ Resignation report.
Phuc Pham, Country Manager for Robert Walters Vietnam, explains why the Great Resignation phenomenon wasn’t as big in Southeast Asia compared to other regions, and how companies can exert more effort to retain talents.
Robert Walters recently released a comprehensive report detailing the Great Resignation trend in Southeast Asia. Can you explain more about the research findings?
The Great Resignation started in the US in the spring of 2021, when there was an elevated rate of US workers quitting their jobs amid strong labor demand and low employment rate because of the pandemic. Experts in the recruitment industry say the phenomenon was caused by workers realizing they dislike their jobs.
But the Great Resignation wasn’t so much of a reality in Southeast Asia. Robert Walters conducted a very comprehensive survey in June 2022 to find out what was happening in the region in terms of employment and staff turnover. We surveyed 2,638 professionals and 1,131 companies across six Southeast Asian nations (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam).
Interestingly, we found that 79% of employees thought of resigning in the past year. However, 42% of these professionals didn’t actually leave their jobs. Almost 60% of professionals indicated they were uncomfortable quitting their jobs without another lined up. These findings paint a more nuanced picture of the region’s “Not-so-Great” Resignation.
Was the situation the same in Vietnam, given that the labor force comprises younger workers?
Southeast Asian countries faced largely similar realities. But in Vietnam, specifically, 69% of professionals were thinking of resigning or changing jobs in the past year, but 41% chose to stay.
Workers in Vietnam are also the least uncomfortable in the region to leave their current roles, as a huge number of workers didn’t want to risk quitting their jobs without the certainty of landing another one. 45% of those surveyed said there were inadequate posts for them in the market. 39% said they didn’t find jobs that were suitable for them, and 22% were uncertain about the workplace culture and suitability of the new job.
Even when most workers chose to stay, employers and human resources personnel should continue to improve the work culture to retain talents. What do workers demand from their jobs?
Southeast Asian employees didn’t push through with their plans of quitting, but this doesn’t mean they don’t plan to do so in the future. In fact, 77% of the talents we surveyed are confident about job opportunities in their sector, mainly because everything’s largely back to normal now and staffing and sourcing have increased. 68% also said they’re looking to change jobs within the next year.
Despite so, it should be highlighted that 81% of talents would consider changing their minds and not resign if employers meet certain conditions. So, what will make them stay? We found that the most common demands among employees are salary increments, promotions, changed job scopes and responsibilities, inspirational organizational culture, and flexible working arrangements.
In Vietnam, we’ve seen that the majority of the employees have reassessed their priorities when it comes to working. 65% now want more time spent with family and friends — which is a big deal in family-centered Vietnamese culture.
Meanwhile, 54% are now putting more emphasis on their mental and physical well-being, and 49% need meaning and fulfillment in their jobs. In addition, Vietnamese employees value colleagues and work cultures that inspire them to do their best.
In our survey with employers in the country, we found that 62% of them matched or increased salaries to retain their best talents over the past year, and 51% provided opportunities for training and upskilling. However, a considerably high percentage of workers (34%) did not see or were not aware of any changes.
We at Robert Walters highly recommend for companies have better communication strategies with their employees about their retention efforts. It all boils down to communication. If employees don’t see or understand the measures taken by employers, these efforts will not create positive changes.
Are we expecting big changes in the work culture and the general labor market in the coming year?
The pandemic has made major changes in how people work; it has also given rise to different trends like hybrid working. It will take time for the market to recover properly from the impacts of the pandemic. Notably, the labor market is fragmented because every industry or every job position entails different responsibilities, needs, and goals.
But no matter the industry, I can never highlight work culture enough. Employees will be inspired to be more productive and engaged when the work environment has a healthy culture and positive vibe. Offering employees benefits and incentives also brings more advantages than financial losses to the company. Allowing a hybrid work setup is one key thing that companies can do.
Work trends and changes depending on the industry. As long as employee engagement is high, companies will survive. To achieve this means going beyond traditional strategies. Employees have changed, especially in Vietnam, where the labor force consists of Millennials and Gen Zs, so conversations about career development, opportunities, and work culture have also changed.
From the recruitment process to the time an employee starts working, the work culture must already be established so that everyone has a common goal and is united toward that goal.
Robert Walters is one of the leading recruitment firms in the region. How do you connect the right talents to the right employers?
It all starts with having a good understanding of what the client needs. When we work with companies, we dig deep into their company culture, what they’re trying to accomplish and what values they uphold. We always make sure to meet the hiring manager, line manager, or department heads to truly understand how they work. From there, we look for candidates that best fit the company’s needs. We conduct face-to-face interviews to better gauge the candidates. We serve as middlemen, so we really listen to and understand both sides, get insights and then build that connection between them.
Having a recruitment firm take care of the recruitment process, especially for big firms, makes a big difference. One, this is what we’re trained for and what we’re good at. We spend 100% of our time talking with people and knowing them beyond resumes or positions. This means we deliver more efficient results and always get the job done. Not to mention it’s less time-consuming and more cost-effective. No employer would want to spend a long period of time looking for a candidate who would not be the right fit in the end.
Robert Walters also serves as a good brand ambassador for companies. We have an impressive portfolio of clients working exclusively with us to build their teams. We focus on mid to senior-level positions across different industries, along with C-suite executive roles. We’ve been doing recruitment globally for nearly 40 years now, so I believe from a branding perspective, working with Robert Walters further builds a company’s image.