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Why do Singapore firms still struggle to retain talent?

Efficient onboarding processes and sustained employee engagement efforts are key.

Despite maintaining its leading position in Asia Pacific (APAC) in talent competitiveness for the sixth consecutive year, Singapore firms remained weak in their ability to retain talent with the 2019 Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTCI) ranking Singapore after United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Spain at 26th globally. 

The index cited how Singapore still had room for improvement with regards to the workforce contributing to pension system (42nd) and social protection (38th) subcomponents. The Lion City also ranked poorly on workforce with secondary education and population with secondary education (69th in both cases).

Also read: Singapore still trails Switzerland in talent competitiveness

A study conducted by Robert Half found that nearly half (49%) of Singapore’s financial employers have had an employee resign during their probation period due to poor onboarding processes, with 27% losing the employees during their first month.

“In today’s candidate-short market, too many business leaders sometimes forget it’s not only about attracting and securing talent, but also retaining them, thereby highlighting the importance of helping the employee kick-start their career in the best possible way thanks to an efficient onboarding process,” Matthieu Imbert-Bouchard, managing director of Robert Half Singapore, told Singapore Business Review.

This sentiment was shared by Linda Teo, country manager for ManpowerGroup Singapore, who noted that the subsequent lack of engagement efforts by managers after the fanfare of attracting employees can make workers feel like they are commodities instead of humans. “Relying on human resources (HR) department to engage staff is insufficient. Engagement needs to be more targeted and personalised to be effective. Employers should also equip line managers with the skills required to engage employees as they are working directly with them to complement HR’s efforts,” she explained. 

However, Teo noted that a one-size-fits-all approach to engage employees will have little effect, as Singapore’s workforce consists of employees from different generations.  “Companies’ traditional approach to managing the workplace as a homogenous entity is no longer effective. With increasing life expectancy and retirement age, companies will have employees from four to five different generations,” she highlighted. “Whilst employers may balk at the higher cost of customising retention initiatives to target different generations, this will outweigh the benefits of having an engaged workforce.”

Imbert-Bouchard agreed, pointing out that companies who lose new recruits during their probation period not only have to start the recruitment process from scratch, but also have to deal with the associated costs of lost productivity and low team morale amongst employees who most likely have to manage the additional workload.

Additionally, losing employees that early on does not increase the standing of the company as an employer of choice to potential new applicants, potentially impacting the wider attractiveness of the business.

But due to the favourable market conditions for top talent in Singapore and the low unemployment rate, skilled candidates know they are in demand and often receive job offers from competing organisations who offer not only a higher salary, but also lifestyle benefits such as flexible working arrangements.

“Finding out what motivates and drives every employee is one of the key cornerstones of an effective policy. Retention is a business priority that needs a certain level of individualisation and continuous improvement efforts.staff retention is primarily the responsibility of the employer as they need to identify the main catalysts that benefit retention within their organisation, build and implement a policy around it, communicate their policy, as well as address staff turnover when it occurs,” he underlined.

An independently-conducted Robert Half survey amongst 500 Singaporean jobseekers found that one in four (25%) Singaporean office workers would leave their current organisation to get a better work-life balance, followed closely by 24% who refer to financial rewards and 23% citing career development. Another 16% refer to management/leadership and 5% to co-workers as being the primary reason why they would leave the organisation.

Also read: Horrible bosses? 1 in 3 Singaporeans are not satisfied with work-life balance due to inflexible managers

Whilst salary remained a significant part of a remuneration package in Singapore and companies realise that they have to offer above-average salary packages to both attract and retain high-calibre professionals, there has been a steady shift of preferences from jobseekers who are looking for more work-life balance, with some even prioritising non-financial incentives other than just a higher salary. 

Companies looking to attract and retain top performers need to consider other non-financial incentives, such as workplace flexibility and the option to work from home, especially if they are not in a position to award pay increases or above-average salary rates, Imbert-Bouchard noted.

“Employees, however, also carry some of the responsibility as they are advised to address any issues with their employer that might cause them to leave the company,” he explained. “Regularly communicating and being transparent about the company’s retention efforts, and developing open lines of communication while demonstrating the flexibility to address potential concerns are all key elements to successful employee retention.”

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