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Expanding work-life perspectives: Talent management in Asia

Asian research, June 2013

The Power of Catalyst, a not for profit research house, recently examined talent management practices in US and Europe-based global organisations operating in Asia. Specifically, its 2012 report entitled ‘Expanding work-life perspectives. Talent management in Asia’ considered the idea of ‘work-life effectiveness’, and its effect on a pool of high-performing talent. Work-life effectiveness is defined as a workplace strategy that supports employees in achieving work life fit.

The report recognises that workplace effectiveness (the degree to which a workplace adopts work-life effectiveness approaches) requires consideration of both the organisation’s standpoint on flexible working arrangements, as well as local customs such that options are beneficial and attractive to the local employee population. It also considers the implications of flexible work-life arrangements on retaining key talent.


This research aimed to investigate work-life balance practices in US and European based firms in Asian countries, and how high potential employees perceived these practices. The research also investigated differences in perceptions across gender and country.


The findings are based on survey responses from a sample of 1,834 employees working in Asia in US or European-based global organisations. The Asian countries where employees worked included China, Hong Kong, India, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. Participants were designated by their employers as being high potential for future leadership.

The second half of the report focuses on responses from China, India and Singapore specifically to further investigate differences between countries.


The following findings support the importance of work life effectiveness programs, irrespective of gender or country:

  • High-potentials: High-potential employees reported high levels of job focus and career ambition - 64% of respondents reported that their top priority was their job
  • Wellbeing: Respondents who worked in a flexible organisation were more likely to report higher levels of wellbeing
  • Balance: Respondents who reported ease of managing competing personal and work demands were more likely to be working in organisations that offered significant workplace flexibility
  • Direction: Respondents were more likely to struggle with managing work and personal life due to work related challenges rather than family or personal concerns
  • Succession: Job pressures, stress, long hours and other priorities were cited as the most important reasons for respondents not aiming to achieve senior leadership roles in their overall career
  • Gap: The majority of respondents indicated that a gap existed between their work-life balance needs, and what was offered by their organisation.

In assessing differences between countries by comparing responses from China, India and Singapore, the study found:

  • China: Respondents in China expressed some of the highest levels of focus on job rather than family or both.  Respondents were also less likely to indicate work-life effectiveness was ‘very important’ to them, and more likely to indicate it was ‘somewhat or not important’
  • Singapore: Respondents in Singapore expressed some of the highest levels of focus on family rather than job or both
  • India and Singapore: Respondents in India and Singapore were more likely than all other countries to have a dual focus on job and family
  • India: Respondents in India indicated the highest level of interest in advancing to senior roles and also the biggest gap between current workplace flexibility and work-life needs


This study raises many important implications for global organisations operating in Asian countries.

Firstly, it highlights that work-life effectiveness and provision of flexible work practices is not about male and female – many of the key findings of the research were common across gender. Men also value flexibility, and are pressured by competing work-life demands.

Secondly, the findings emphasise the need to consider the work-life balance requirements of employees on a case-by-case basis, depending on local customs and needs. Although there may be similar themes and trends in work-life effectiveness globally and regionally, successful programs must take into consideration the local variations. For example, in countries where it is common for the extended family to provide childcare there may be less need for on-site child care facilities. Instead, there may need to be other flexible options available for these employees to accommodate more family obligations.

This is particularly important in the context of Asia given that it holds some of the fast growing economies. Ensuring employee wellbeing and retention among high-performing staff is vital, and organisations should assess whether work-life demands are hindering leadership aspirations among their pool of high potential employees.

The authors provide some thought provoking questions for organisations to consider when integrating global and local perspectives into work-life effectiveness programs:

  • What does work-life fit mean to the organisation’s employees?
  • What does flexibility look like in the organisation?
  • What sort of support/programs will be most beneficial given the local context?

Further study might seek to explore the notion of the ‘gap’ between employees’ work-life balance needs and that offered by their organisations. Given the investment placed in developing many work-life balance initiatives, ensuring its efficacy, and resulting positive impact on business objectives, is important.

To read the full article, see Sabattini, L. and Carter, N. M. (2012) “Expanding Work-Life Perspectives: Talent Management in Asia.” Catalyst


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