Work/Life Effectiveness in Asia: One Size Doesn't Fit All

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While women and men in Asia have high career aspirations, more women than men experience lack of workplace flexibility as a career obstacle, according to the study Expanding Work-Life Perspectives: Talent Management in Asia.

The study was produced by Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that seeks to expand opportunities for women at work. Survey responses were received from over 1,800 high-potential male and female employees throughout Asia working from for U.S. or European-based global organizations. Among the key findings:

  • There’s a mismatch between employees’ workplace flexibility needs and work/life programs at global companies in Asia.
  • Some programs are not the right fit regionally and, as a result, people may not feel comfortable using them.

To be effective, the report suggests, workplace flexibility options can’t be “one-size-fits-all”—organizations need to develop localized approaches that take diverse cultural contexts and customs into account.

“Work/life effectiveness in Asia has been relatively unexamined and is critical in a region that needs to develop talent to meet the demands of dynamic economic growth,” said Catalyst President and CEO Ilene H. Lang. “In India and China, where women’s economic and workforce participation is on the rise, tapping into women’s talents and finding the right work/life solutions directly impact the ability of companies to recruit, develop and retain promising employees—enhancing workplace performance, the bottom line and competitive advantage.”

Career Ambitions and Work Flex

Among other study findings:

  • Both women and men in Asia are very ambitious about career advancement but value having a good fit between work and their personal lives—90 percent rated work/life fit as “very important”—and they appreciate workplace flexibility.
  • Although respondents were relatively satisfied with the level of flexibility at their companies, for more than 80 percent there was a gap between the level of workplace flexibility employees say they need and the flexibility actually provided, and women were less satisfied than men.
  • Among those who had scaled back their ambitions to attain more senior positions, both women and men cited job pressures, long hours, stress on relationships and other work/life challenges as the main reasons for their decision.

A special section of the report on China, India and Singapore revealed that respondents working in these emerging economic powerhouses reported high levels of job focus and career ambition, and that:

  • Indian respondents had the highest short- and long-term career aspirations; 98 percent said they hoped to advance to a higher-level position in the next five years vs. 91 percent in China and 86 percent in Singapore.
  • 78 percent in India said their long-term goal was to reach CEO or senior leadership positions vs. 52 percent in China and 51 percent in Singapore.

In terms of work/life priorities:

  • Women and men from China reported the highest level of job focus (75 percent).
  • Respondents from India (27 percent) and Singapore (26 percent) were more likely than others to have a dual work/family focus.
  • Singapore had the highest percentage of respondents with a family focus (17 percent).
  • Respondents from China were less satisfied with the level of workplace flexibility than those in India and Singapore—just 57 percent in China said there’s enough flexibility vs. 72 percent in India and 74 percent in Singapore.

Questions to Ask

To help companies further develop effective and localized workplace flexibility strategies, the report offers questions for consideration which include:

  • What does work/life fit mean to your employees, and what kinds of work/life supports will be most helpful in your specific cultural context?
  • What flexible programs are available in your organization? Do they align with cultural needs and norms?
  • Do women and men at your organization have similar flexibility needs?

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM. To read the original article, please click here.