Why good employees in South-East Asia leave for overseas

More employees are seeking better career opportunities by moving overseas, and employers can do more to retain their best talent.
By: | September 28, 2023

At a time when many organisations are struggling to retain their best talent, the situation is exacerbated by skilled employees quitting their jobs and seeking better opportunities overseas.

However, it is not all doom and gloom, as May Leng Kwok, Regional Head APAC, CIPD, told HRM Asia in an exclusive interview. “Overall, the state of HR is a positive one,” she shared. “The CIPD’s report found than half (54%) of people professionals in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei are satisfied with their jobs.”

Yet, in the aftermath of a global pandemic, with some countries experiencing rising costs of living and political uncertainty, more mixed prospects for organisations in Asia-Pacific (APAC) are beginning to show, adding pressures on people professionals in terms of workforce retention and engagement, and more employees shifting their views on mental health, equality, and diversity and inclusion (EDI). 

Kwok drew the statistics from the CIPD’s report, HR Talent Trends – What’s next for our senior leaders? Using pulse surveys and in-depth interviews with 100 people professionals and senior leaders across Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, the report looks to understand more of the factors affecting talent retention and development in Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei. 

As to why more employees are choosing to seek opportunities overseas, Kwok attributed this to three main reasons, including the rising cost of living within South-East Asia. 

Secondly, employees are looking for more opportunities for career growth and to gain more international experience. “The HR industry in SEA is still developing, and there are often fewer opportunities for career growth than in other regions,” espoused Kwok. “However, from our CIPD report, we are observing that the pandemic has shed more light on the strategic importance of the function. Conversations around HR’s value have been particularly changing in Brunei, where the function is less developed compared with other markets in the region.” 

Thirdly, employees are seeking a better work-life balance as more HR and people professionals find themselves more overwhelmed before coping with overseeing the shift to hybrid work while ensuring full support of the staff and protecting them in all aspects through the hybrid work arrangement shift. 

With the current economic climate adding pressure to these employees, it reshapes priorities and affects job satisfaction. “Moving to a region with a better work-life balance could be one way people professionals are looking to improve their quality of life,” she added.

To reduce brain drain in South-East Asia, organisations and leaders should address burnout by allocating more support and resources to help cope with stress and burnout. “Set clear expectations and recognise and reward achievements; and cultivate a culture that prioritises well-being,” Kwok said.

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Organisations should also provide opportunities for growth and development by offering training and development programmes; promoting employees from within the organisations and creating a comfortable workplace culture where people feel like they can take risks and try new things.

Finally, Kwok emphasised the importance of supporting their employees in building professional networks, as research for the CIPD report found that 90% of respondents agreed that networking with other people professionals was important in advancing in their career.

“Peer-learning allows for exposure to best practices in the wider profession and creates more opportunities to seek guidance or mentorships. Building these relationships offer individuals more support and confidence to pursue their career ambitions,” she concluded.