How employers can avoid the ‘angpao’ exodus

Employees often choose to leave after receiving bonus pay outs. But is this a reflective of problem with the employees - or with the organisation?
By: | February 1, 2019


About the Author
Leong Chee Tung is the CEO of EngageRocket.

Giving out red packets or ‘angpaos’ to employees is one of the top Lunar New Year traditions practised by SMEs in many parts of Asia.

Business owners view this as a gesture of gratitude and appreciation to thank their staff for their hard work and contributions in the past year. However is this too little too late?

With employee engagement levels in Singapore consistently reported low even within Asia and a study last year which showed almost half of Singaporean workers planning to quit their job within a year, the risk of star performers leaving suddenly after the lunar new year cannot be ignored.


The secret reason why people leave

The problem with people leaving is that they are rarely honest about why. Exit interviews at the point of departure do a bad job of capturing root causes, because nobody wants to burn bridges with their past bosses and colleagues.

To shed some light on the real reasons, numerous empirical studies have shown that people join companies, but leave managers.

As the main interface between the employee and the company, it is estimated that more than 70% of the variation in engagement levels of employees can be attributed to their interactions with their direct boss.

This is a challenge because so few of us are naturally inclined to be great managers. Studies show that only 1 in 10 are born with this talent, while the rest of us need to find other ways of being successful managing others.


How to build early warning systems against talent drain

In executing business plans, we rarely rise to the level of our goals. Instead, we fall to the level of our systems.

For the 90% of us who are not natural great managers, this means we need to be proactive in building solid systems to assist us in managing our people.

With technology and analytics as advanced as they are today, thankfully this does not have to be difficult.

“Running an engagement survey once a year (or once every few years), then hoping that an action plan on that single data point will miraculously retain talent is a misunderstanding that is costing them millions of dollars a year

For example, the basic employee engagement process in more than 70% of companies in Asia today is causing them to fail.

Running an engagement survey once a year (or once every few years), then hoping that an action plan on that single data point will miraculously retain talent is a misunderstanding that is costing them millions of dollars a year.

To set busy managers up for success and improve their understanding of their people, using technology to run more frequent pulse surveys – few targeted questions, asked more often – coupled with deeply segmented analysis will allow leaders and HR to quickly identify troubling trends and take action before it is too late.

Encouraging a system of regular one-on-ones between managers and employees can help to provide not only a good qualitative understanding of the challenges each employee faces, but also gives the managers protected time to recognise good work done, take an interest in their personal well-being and help them plan their careers in the company strategically.

Within the HR department, even deploying these simple tools and reviewing the participation of managers and employees can give strong leading indicators of talent attrition.


Ways to improve engagement

Even after putting in place early warning systems, HR cannot reduce the chances of ‘regrettable attrition’ alone.

The most important task in talent retention is actually getting buy-in from the business heads who lead those employees every day.

Together, they need to create an environment of trust and respect for each employee, acknowledging that each comes with her unique strengths and paths to achieving the desired outcome.

A few suggestions to improve the levels of employee engagement:

Improve autonomy

Asian companies can be very process-driven, to the point that we encourage “zombie workers” who minimise personal initiative to avoid making process errors.

By focusing on the achievement of outcomes and understanding that having a different process is favourable even if it deviates from Standard Operating Protocol, leaders can celebrate autonomy and creativity.

Find ways to nurture mastery

There is a high cultural emphasis on taking on managerial responsibilities, with managers usually receiving more pay, respect & prestige than individual contributors.

Instead of focusing incentives just on rising up the managerial rungs, HR can create multiple paths of success through masterful individual contribution.

Over-communicate Purpose

With a sometimes excessive focus on doing things right instead of doing the right things, many Asian leaders choose to focus on communicating the “how” of a process, instead of spending time communicating the “why”.

Leaders should always err on the side of over-communicating purpose and drawing a line of sight from individual work to value.

Finally, to track the success of these initiatives, HR needs to implement a system of continuous listening, through multiple feedback channels with solid analytics to extract actionable insight from all the feedback data.

This would provide a clear map of who needs intervention and when.

With these measures in place, there is a greater chance that those getting the ‘angpaos’ over the Lunar New Year would stay on to contribute even more in the months and years to come.