Office culture and low salaries chase Hong Kongers out of Chinese firms

The majority of Hongkong employees who have left China-headquartered companies blame rigid office culture and low salaries.
By: | December 19, 2018


According to a study published by recruitment firm Michael Page, more than two-third (70%) of Hongkongers who quit a China-based company blamed its office culture and low salaries.

The survey polled more than 2,900 Chinese companies and former employees across various industries in September this year.

Although Chinese companies are entering Hong Kong in droves, almost half (44%) have difficulty retaining talent in the nation.

“These Chinese companies have a lot of money, and they came to Hong Kong to make big plans. Locals took up the roles and thought they would be part of the big change, but they would soon realise that most decisions were only made in the head office in China,” said John Mullally, the director of Hong Kong Financial Services and Shenzhen from Robert Walters.

Mullally also added that Chinese companies are comparatively more traditional with an inherent power difference between the CEO and everyone else.

As a result, some Hongkongers, who are more used to working in British firms with a more liberal culture, may find this uncomfortable.

In addition, even though most Hongkongers want to join a Chinese firm for a high salary, they often end up agreeing to a pay lesser than expected. This is reflected in more than half (67%) who left citing a lower pay than expected.

“These companies have the habit of putting candidates through a long recruitment process and design it in a way that candidates would be so caught into the opportunities and keen to join the company that they could end up paying less than what the candidates asked for,” Mullally said.

“The atmosphere became so stiff once the boss stepped into the room, which made me feel uncomfortable. And because most of the business was referred from the headquarters in China, we didn’t really have a say in many things and had to do whatever the head office told us,” said one Hongkonger who left a China employer.

But not all Chinese companies are similar, with outliers including Alibaba and Tencent that are on par with international companies, Mullally added.

Compared to five years ago, Chinese companies have been improving in recent times, as they gradually adapt to the Hong Kong culture, said Daniel Lau, the senior consultant from recruiter Silverstrand Executive Search Limited.

He is optimistic that Chinese companies can tackle recruitment and talent retention challenges, while continuing to play a larger role in the Hong Kong market, as opposed to international firms.

“Most US and Europeans firms are starting to cut down staff or restructure their Asian offices amid global uncertainties because of the fact that Asian revenue only makes up a little of their overall revenue,” Lau said.

“But Chinese firms are still aggressive in hunting talents in Hong Kong, as their desire to expand their business outside China is strong,” he added.