Hard times and hope with Asia gearing up for an uncertain year as revealed in the new Hays Asia 2021 Salary Guide

2020 opened amidst concerns centring on a constricting global economy, trade enmity, and a general ‘slobalisation’ as countries worldwide turned towards more protectionist practices. However, the pandemic upset all predictions, bringing with it a new set of challenges for companies and their employees to face. But as 2021 begins, though uncertainty remains, according to the 2021 Asia Salary Guide report by leading recruitment experts Hays, there is an underlying hope for the year ahead.

This annual Hays Asia Salary Guide, remains a definitive snapshot of salaries for positions across industries in Asia. The salary and hiring insights, including a thorough market overview of business outlooks, salary policies and recruitment trends, are based on survey responses from the five Hays operating markets in Asia: China, Hong Kong SAR, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore.

Innovation and the double-edged sword of working from home

Though the pandemic rocked businesses throughout Asia, 34 per cent of employers noted a rise in innovation over the last twelve months – rising to 37 per cent in Singapore – testimony to the truism that crisis spawns creativity. This can be seen in the rise of digital transformation across numerous industries, the implementation of AI and cloud technologies and the utilisation of various technological advances required to ensure that employees could work from home with minimal disruption.

To ameliorate the latter, 70 per cent of employers established a number of flexible working options, up from 54 per cent in 2020. The most common of these options was remote working (57 per cent) including 71 per cent in Singapore and 69 per cent in Japan. In addition, 31 per cent of companies provided a flexitime option, the most popular option in China (40 per cent).

Despite the fact that jobseekers regularly demand these options when chasing a new role, with home and mobile working the most preferred option (63 per cent) followed by flexitime (57 per cent) and compressed hours (28 per cent), it seems that these benefits are having a surprisingly detrimental effect on work-life balance.

Of employees looking to remain in their role, 48 per cent cited work-life balance as an important pull factor, rising ten percentage points since 2017. Yet a shrinking proportion feel that they have a ‘good’ or ‘very good’ balance, down to 46 per cent in 2021 from 50 per cent the year before, evidence of a growing imposition of work life upon their free time.

Salary slowdown

Though work-life balance is a key consideration in 2021, ‘salary’ is the primary concern as it was the most preferred option for employees (49 per cent) and candidates (58 per cent) alike, with jobseekers in China (69 per cent) and employees Malaysia (57 per cent) most likely to make this selection.

However, salaries stagnated over the last year, as 35 per cent of companies provided no increase, rising to 38 per cent in Japan and Hong Kong, almost double that of 2020 (18 per cent). In addition, six per cent of companies in Asia decreased wages, and these trends are likely to continue in 2021, with 37 per cent of employers forecasting stasis and 4 per cent predicting decrement.

Recruitment freezes to thaw through the year

As salary budgets are tightened in 2021, so will be recruitment funds. In the next 12 months, just 36 per cent of companies expect permanent staff levels to increase, leaping to 50 per cent in China, while 45 per cent expect headcounts to stay the same, including 56 per cent in Hong Kong and 54 per cent in Singapore. However, while these figures may not suggest overt assurance, they are an improvement on the previous year, when only 29 per cent of companies increased staffing levels, and 30 per cent saw cutbacks, including 32 per cent in Malaysia.

As such, these low-level predictions for 2021 may reflect the fact that 42 per cent of organisations will implement hiring freezes – whether for the first three months of the year (9 per cent) the first six months (16 per cent) or indefinitely (17 per cent), with companies in Malaysia being the most likely to do so (10, 21 and 21 per cent respectively) – with the potential for lifting them later in the year. Furthermore, this leaves 58 per cent of companies – 72 per cent in China and 64 per cent in Japan – which may be open to recruitment should the opportunity arise.

Hard skills imperative for forward-facing organisations

Companies throughout Asia saw 2020 fourth quarter recruitment rises, and as hiring freezes thaw in the coming year there will be opportunities for candidates skilled in the right areas, and the majority of companies (59 per cent) prefer candidates with hard skills, particularly in Malaysia (68 per cent) and Singapore (67 per cent). Reflecting the growing desire for candidates in digital, AI and Big Data fields, employers are on the hunt for professionals with technical (67 per cent), analytical (66 per cent) and project (45 per cent) skills.

Despite possessing a wealth of experience fewer temporary or contract professionals are being employed on a regular, ongoing basis, with only 26 per cent of businesses doing so, a decline of six per cent since 2020. Employers in Japan, where there is a strong history of contract professional utilisation, were once again the most likely to continue with this strategy (38 per cent), though at a markedly lower level than in 2019 (54 per cent). The good news for temporary staff is that just 17 per cent of companies plan to cut back in the year to come – the same as in 2020 – and in Hong Kong 68 per cent of employers will maintain their contractor headcount.
Flickers of hope for 2021

“Despite the obvious hardships that we all faced last year, 55 per cent of companies in Asia expect business activities to increase in 2021. Though this is a four per cent drop on last year’s predictions, it shows a degree of confidence that if the corner has not yet been turned, it soon may be,” says Richard Eardley, Managing Director at Hays Asia. “Backing up this assurance is how companies foresee the growth of their local economy in the next six to twelve months, where 33 per cent expect it to strengthen, which is a vast improvement on last year’s 21 per cent, and not far behind the 36 per cent of 2019.

“And while this may be scant consolation for those undergoing the hardships imposed by the unprecedented year that has gone before, it does signal a gradual return to brighter times ahead. It may take time and involve significant change in how businesses operate and the skills which employees must develop, yet there is a definite feeling that improvement is within reach.”

Download your copy of the 2021 Hays Asia Salary Guide by clicking here.
About Hays

Hays plc (the "Group") is a leading global professional recruiting group. The Group is the expert at recruiting qualified, professional and skilled people worldwide, being the market leader in the UK and Australia and one of the market leaders in Continental Europe, Latin America and Asia. The Group operates across the private and public sectors, dealing in permanent positions, contract roles and temporary assignments. As at 30 June 2020 the Group employed c.10,400 staff operating from 266 offices in 33 countries across 20 specialisms. For the year ended 30 June 2020:
– the Group reported net fees of £996.2 million and operating profit (pre-exceptional items) of £135.0 million;
– the Group placed around 66,000 candidates into permanent jobs and around 235,000 people into temporary roles;
– 17% of Group net fees were generated in Australia & New Zealand, 26% in Germany, 23% in United Kingdom & Ireland and 34% in Rest of World (RoW);
– the temporary placement business represented 59% of net fees and the permanent placement business represented 41% of net fees;
– IT is the Group’s largest specialism, with 25% of net fees, while Accountancy & Finance (15%) and Construction & Property (12%), are the next largest
– Hays operates in the following countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UAE, the UK and the USA