Organisations need to speed up the training of their sales and marketing staff in order to maximise their productivity, as they are notoriously difficult to retain, delegates at Mercer’s 2017 Total Rewards Conference in Hong Kong were told.

Speaking about the innovations in employee benefits that are driving engagement in Asia, Godelieve van Dooren – regional industry leader Asia Pacific at Mercer – shared some insights from the firm’s recent research on the topic.

The high turnover of sales and marketing staff remained a trend across most industries, she said, partly because many companies were headquartered elsewhere and only conducted sales and marketing operations in Asia. It is also widely acceptable for sales employees to jump between jobs regularly for better pay and conditions, she added.

In response, employers need to speed up their training of sales staff so they can be productive more quickly – but they must also be prepared to lose people fast, warned van Dooren.

Say goodbye nicely, she advised. “If you only have employees for a short time, you need to get the best out of people and encourage them to come back,” she said. Other ideas for helping to retain staff included offering wellness programs that appeal to the specific needs of sales staff who may need to travel frequently.

The cost of living was also discussed at the conference. Hong Kong emerged as the most expensive place to live for expatriate employees, however van Doreen said the figures only related to expatriates, who often have different housing and school needs. “We need to be careful about saying this has an impact on the wages of locals – it doesn’t,” she added.

Despite the expense, comprehensive expatriate packages are still available. “The number of expatriates or assignments has not been decreasing in Asia,” she said. “Many of my clients say it’s better to have a very clear expatriate package than all these local plus, plus, plus [packages], which sometimes get more expensive than a full expatriate package.”

There is better governance and better KPIs in expatriate contracts that you can negotiate for, added Van Doreen. Usually they are fixed-term, whereas local plus are often for an extended period of time and that’s very high risk, she said: “That’s why we still see the full expatriate package being very much in demand.”

Employees in Singapore and Hong Kong gave almost identical health and work-life balance responses in Mercer’s research, with 54 per cent of employees asking employers to focus more on health and wellness, which van Dooren said was consistent across Asia and globally.

But a closer look revealed important differences between the two locations. In line with global responses, one in three employees in Hong Kong said they did not feel empowered to create their own career success, but in Singapore the figure rose to nearly half.

“People feel they have no control,”’ said van Dooren. This may be because beneath the surface, Singapore is much more traditional than Hong Kong, she added, pointing to the importance of face-time with the boss, which makes Singaporeans “loathe” working flexibly.

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