Soon after the fifth lockdown, employers in Hong Kong SAR are requesting their employees to return to the offices. However, both Randstad and Gall have noted a greater resistance and reluctance from Hongkongers to return to the office this time.

Even as the rest of the world moves on, companies and employees in Hong Kong SAR continue to face COVID-19 regulations such as vaccination-differentiated measures, talent and skills shortages and changing talent expectations.

Rouella Landicho, Director of Banking and Financial Services and Legal at Randstad Hong Kong, was joined by legal experts from Gall recently in a webinar hosted by publishing firm Wolters Kluwer, to help employers gain clarity on how they can navigate as more COVID-19 restrictions are expected to be lifted.

vaccinated-differentiated measures in the workplace

Despite the numerous benefits, it is undeniable that the COVID-19 vaccines have divided the society. However, most people have chosen to be inoculated to safeguard themselves against COVID-19 and continue to enjoy the freedom of dining in restaurants and international travel.

Companies are also introducing vaccinated differentiated workplace measures to protect their employees’ physical health. For instance, most organisations in Hong Kong SAR will need their employees to receive at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to the office.

However, Gall cautioned that employers cannot force their employees to get vaccinated unless the COVID-19 vaccination is required for the employee to fully perform their job responsibilities, such as being an airline steward or general surgeon.

Landicho also shared that some financial institutions require front office professionals like relationship managers and investment bankers to be fully vaccinated as well, as they will be meeting customers and travelling for business.

She also revealed that some employers have requested for recruiters to shortlist talent based on their skills, experience as well as vaccination status. Gall said that while this may not expose the company to the liability of an unlawful termination, the individual could potentially file a discrimination claim if he or she was not selected for the job.

It is hence critical for employers to indicate the roles and responsibilities clearly in the job advertisement itself. If the job entails maintaining client relationships over a meal at a restaurant or travelling for work, then it would make sense for the company to only select candidates who are fully vaccinated. On the other hand, independent contributors like software developers who can perform their jobs at home may not necessarily need to be fully vaccinated.

However, employers that both Gall and Randstad worked with have accommodated unvaccinated employees and job applicants. Most companies would make arrangements for unvaccinated employees to work from home if their roles allow for it to reduce their exposure to COVID-19 while also protecting their current workforce.

how flexible work looks like in hong kong?

Companies in Hong Kong SAR have largely adapted to the pandemic. Over the past two years, organisations have set up a secured cloud network system and issued laptops to their employees to enable flexible work arrangements like remote working.

While the primary reason to create a digital workspace back in 2020 was largely for our safety, the narrative has shifted to a greater focus on work-life balance. According to the 2022 Workmonitor survey, 29% of Hongkongers have previously resigned from their jobs due to a lack of flexible working arrangements.

hongkongers quit their jobs due to job inflexibility
hongkongers quit their jobs due to job inflexibility

Compared to other markets like Australia, Malaysia and Singapore, working from home is less popular in Hong Kong SAR. Apartments are smaller in size, making it difficult for employees to set up a conducive and dedicated workspace at home. In the same survey, 55% said that it is important to have work flexibility in terms of working locations, 16% lower than the global average.

Hence, the notion of remote working with flexible hours is more popular in Hong Kong SAR. 35% said that they would not accept a job if it did not provide employees flexibility around their working hours. To put this data into perspective, 1 in 3 job applicants would reject the job offer if the company does not allow them to work flexible hours.

hongkongers reject job that offers no flexibility
hongkongers reject job that offers no flexibility

Landicho said that Hong Kong SAR has had a hustle and presenteeism culture for a long time before the coronavirus outbreak. However, the pandemic has changed employees’ attitudes toward working in the office. If the employee is disciplined, they can meet deadlines and produce results no matter where and what time they work. Some employees also perform better when they are at home or working in flexible arrangements because there are fewer distractions.

Gall noted that Hong Kong companies are also less extreme than some from other countries, which require their entire workforce to return to the office, even when the employees could effectively perform their duties at home. He had noticed that companies are more likely to implement a hybrid model, where employees split their time between the office and remotely.

This would allow employees to spend their working hours more purposefully and productively. The employees could arrange for brainstorming sessions, team meetings and outings when they are in the office. On the days that they are working from home, remote employees could focus on completing their tasks as an independent contributor.

a spotlight on mental health

One of the biggest challenges we have experienced together during the pandemic is the feeling of isolation. This is especially difficult for new joiners in an organisation.

Gall said that when employees have no real contact with anyone in the office other than on Zoom calls, it’s difficult for them to build meaningful connections with their colleagues. Being a new employee, they are unfamiliar with the resources and tools that are available and accessible, nor know who to connect with for help. Without sufficient support during isolation, new joiners will have a tougher time integrating into the organisation and are more likely to feel disengaged.

To overcome this and encourage employee engagement, some organisations have introduced a buddy system. New joiners are attached to a buddy who will introduce them to people in the company and show them the ropes on how they can become an effective hybrid worker. Buddies can also check in with the new employee regularly during their probationary period to understand their experience - both positive and negative - and report back to the HR team so that they can improve the hybrid onboarding process.

Onboarding is also not the only part of the hybrid employee experience that HR professionals should take note of and improve on.

With strict border control measures, Hongkongers have not had the chance to travel for leisure. When given the chance, they are likely to take the opportunity to take a vacation and travel for longer periods of time.

Business partners must also constantly engage their employees through regular surveys and focus groups to understand their employees’ expectations and needs. Landicho said that open dialogues also served as a platform for employees to express their concerns, giving employers the opportunity to improve the employee experience.

Randstad Hong Kong launched the Workaway Programme in 2022, a work-life benefit that allows corporate employees to work anywhere around the world for up to 4 weeks a year. This benefit offers employees some relief, as they do not have to worry about their job security since they get to enjoy an extended holiday with their loved ones.

a global workforce - is it possible?

The short answer would be yes, it’s possible to hire talent from another country without relocating them to Hong Kong SAR. However, there is a long list of risks and liabilities that the company needs to assess.

Employers face an uphill climb when hiring new talent, especially individuals who are equipped with specialised skills in data sciences, economic analytics, green transformation and more. In addition to the high demand for talent, some expatriates in Hong Kong SAR have returned home or relocated to countries with fewer COVID restrictions since 2020, further reducing the size of the local talent pool.

A flexible model creates an opportunity for companies to hire experienced workers who are based in another country without the need to relocate them. This option widens the organisation’s talent pool and reduces the amount of paperwork and costs of relocating an individual to Hong Kong SAR.

However, according to Gall, hiring an employee based in another country raises a number of legal issues, including work visas, income tax, data protection, to name a few. Similarly, Rouella also raised other challenges such as workforce culture integration.

The concept itself is realistic, however, companies need to be thorough about the risks and return on investment calculators when setting up a global workforce.

keep your talent attraction and retention strategy agile

When dealing with the pandemic, it’s always a good idea to expect the unexpected. This means that HR professionals should stay curious and explore the new and inclusive work-life balance initiatives and social activities that involve everyone in the office - vaccinated or not.

By creating clear policies and improving work-life balance, companies have the chance to make a positive impact on their culture, employer brand and people, allowing them to stand out and attract more talent.

let randstad boost your ability to attract talent

At Randstad, we connect with industry experts like Gall and Wolters Kluwer to share new insights on the latest talent expectations and trends. We also conduct global and local surveys regularly to keep up with the changes in the talent landscape.

No matter how small or big your organisation is, Randstad is a resource and an additional channel that your company can engage to reach a wider pool of talent.

If you’re looking to grow your workforce or looking for a replacement headcount, connect with our team of specialised recruiters and let us help you find the talent who fits right into your organisation’s culture and is capable of driving your business performance. Alternatively, if you are looking for a new career opportunity to boost your professional career, visit our latest job listings and apply for jobs.

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