Are Singapore staff the most disengaged in Asia?

According to one ASEAN HR director, employees in Singapore are engaged, just in a different way

Are Singapore staff the most disengaged in Asia?

Are Singaporean workers really the least engaged in the region?

Several reports have highlighted Singapore’s low engagement levels recently but Jane Tham, director, human resources (ASEAN) at Bosch Southeast Asia believes it is a “sweeping statement”.

She said that there is no single way of explaining employee engagement. When talking about engagement in Asia, where there are so many different countries experiencing varying levels of development and living different lifestyles, the issue becomes even more complicated as a lot of things can affect employee engagement.

“I think it’s a lot to do with mindset and exposure. When it comes to mindset, it’s also about how employees see themselves and their attitude towards their work – it’s their own values,” Tham told HRD.

Having had vast experience overseeing HR matters across the region, she shared a comparison between two very different markets, Singapore and Vietnam.

“If you talk about Vietnam for instance, generally the workers there are very engaged. Why? The country is emerging so there’s a lot of excitement. You can even see it during a townhall for example; people go up to the stage to dance and perform,” she said.

“But at a townhall in Singapore, will you ever get a Singaporean to go up and dance? Probably not because we are [engaged] in a different way.”

What employers should focus on to engage employees is to support their values and create a meaning and purpose to the job, Tham added, which is what Bosch has managed to do under her leadership for the past six years.

Harnessing the power of communication
Tham considers the improved engagement levels and staff retention at Bosch over the past six years a personal achievement. She shared with us that staff used to quit almost every six months before she joined the company. After she took over the HR team in 2012, she has managed to retain core team members.

Her secret to the success? Tham said it all boiled down to effective communication.

“In the past, companies sometimes are a little ‘touch and go’ on programs, but no continuity is actually close to no engagement. Engagement is about lifelong communication. [Only with continuity] can you gain engagement in the long term,” she said.

How Bosch’s HR team maintains the continuity in engagement programs is by working closely with the communications department.

Bosch has a range of business units driving their own results, so HR works with the communications representatives in each part of the organisation to deliver one single message about company values and culture, for instance.

“It takes a lot of people to engage staff,” Tham said. “[Besides the communications team] managers are very important as well. The most important role for HR is to pool all the information and ensure that everyone receives one single message.”

Managers are a crucial part of the communications strategy because they help staff apply the values surrounding HR’s “one single message”.

Which is why HR trains managers and holds a leadership session once a year at Bosch – it helps HR engage staff at the higher level and ensure they understand people issues, as well as how to tackle them with the use of HR’s new initiatives.

And what’s the toughest part of executing the strategy? Tham said it’s about the need to repeat the message “again and again before eventually getting it across to people”.

“You can’t just launch something, have a roadshow etc – you have to continue talking about it. So we do it through our townhalls, posters and activities to refresh the message. We have to do it for two years or longer before it becomes ingrained in people.”

She added that there is a need for continued communication because it is better to deliver the message in stages rather than “dumping” it all in one go. Additionally, there is the issue of reaching out to changing team members.

“At Bosch, it took about three to five years [to communicate a culture change] because there will be people coming and going. We’d then have to restart the communication for new employees before they adapt to the culture as well.”




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