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Wage rise not enough to stop staff turnover
The percentage of Macau workers who are thinking of quitting their job in the next year is at least three times higher than in most developed countries, according to a survey released yesterday. This movement has dear costs for the overall competitiveness of the local economy but introducing higher salaries alone will not be enough to buck the trend, survey coordinator Richard Whitfield warned.
For the latest Macau Business Quality of Life report, the University of Saint Joseph (USJ) interviewed more than 1,000 people over the phone last January. About 12 percent of all respondents admitted they were considering leaving their current job.
“It’s a good indicator of what people will actually do,” Whitfield said. “In fact it’s consistent with overall turnover statistics in Macau, which were around 12 percent last year,” he added.
“It’s an understandable situation, because we have very low unemployment within a booming economy. As a result it’s very easy to change jobs,” the USJ professor said.
In January the unemployment rate in Macau dropped to just 2.1 percent, the lowest rate in almost 18 years and the fourth lowest in the world. Meanwhile the local economy expanded by 21.1 percent in the first three quarters of last year. But for companies the situation is “worrying,” Whitfield conceded. “Twelve percent is a very high turnover rate, especially considering that in most Western countries the usual turnover is around four percent.”
Staff turnover “adds costs to business, starting with recruitment and training for new staff,” the scholar said. And the instability also lowers the efficiency of the local economy because “no one stays long enough to become an expert at his or her job,” he added.
The survey reveals that women are more likely to change jobs because “they tend to be less invested in their career,” Whitfield said. “Birth rate is rising with people feeling more comfortable about their lives.”
Asked to identify the most important factor to keep them at their current job, most respondents by far (42 percent) chose ‘salary’, followed by ‘work environment’ (nine percent) and ‘match personal interests’ (eight percent). The industry “should be concerned with how to keep good staff,” Whitfield said. And to offer higher salaries is not effective because “there will always be someone else willing to pay a buck more,” he stressed.
As salaries increase its importance for determining whether the workers sticks around drops, the survey shows. For people with salaries above MOP 40,000 ‘job status’ and ‘career path’ become more relevant and for people with salaries above MOP 60,000 wages are only as important as ‘meaning’ or ‘interest’ derived from work.
And it’s younger people, between the ages of 18 and 25, and people with more education and ‘better jobs’ that are most likely to change jobs. “The latter is a bit unusual because this group is usually more engaged,” said Whitfield. “It’s advisable for companies to try to improve in other non-salary indicators, namely housing and car allowances or medical insurance,” the professor at the USJ School of Intelligent Systems and Technology said.
“A lot can be done to improve work environment and career planning and also to match the position to a person’s interests,” Whitfield said. For instance, he added, “the career path for lower-income positions is the same in all companies: non-existent”.
Schedule flexibility is another opportunity “to improve their staff engagement” that companies are wasting, the expert bemoaned.
In comparison with the previous survey on work situation, carried out in 2008, the percentage of people feeling disengaged grew from 27 to 41 percent. “There were many changes in the last several years and working life is becoming more intense, with people asked to work harder and smarter,” the scholar said. Non-skilled workers and ‘technicians’ were the least engaged while executives and professionals are the most engaged. “On the one side, people are feeling more pressure and starting to become burnt-out. On the other, people are thinking work is more interesting,” Whitfield said.
In comparison with the previous survey on work situation, carried out in 2008, the percentage of people feeling disengaged grew from 27 to 41 percent
The survey also reveals that the population is more satisfied with their life and the territory than in the previous quarter. A ‘significant increase’ that Whitfield believes is linked to the measures announced by the Chief Executive during his 2012 Policy Address last November.
Fernando Chui Sai On prolonged the cash handout and healthcare vouchers, injected more money into Central Saving System accounts and announced MOP 8.57 billion on social measures. “There were several measures to tackle problems identified in our previous report,” Whitfield said. The Macau Business Quality of Life survey for the last quarter of 2011 identified inflation as a big concern, with locals calling for higher subsidies and salaries to reduce the wealth gap.
The personal wellbeing index rose by 1.9 points to reach 65.7 (out of 100) with the biggest increases recorded in ‘community connectedness’ and ‘future security’. ‘Achievements in life’ also soared by three points but retained the lowest score at 60.6 points. Meanwhile the national wellbeing index went from 59.1 to 61.2 points and there was a noticeable increase in satisfaction with the government, whose score jumped five points to 58.9. “Globally people don’t highly rate the government,” Whitfield said, and in Macau this indicator usually ranked last.
About 12 percent of all respondents admitted they were considering leaving their current job
But this quarter the ‘state of the environment’ got the worst score with just 57.6 points. On the contrary, indicators for ‘economic situation’, ‘business’ and ‘social conditions’ all improved beyond 60 points. “Since we started these surveys back in 2007 the results have remained between high 50s and lows 60s, which is typical for Asian countries,” Whitfield said. “It shows that Macau has not been seriously affected by the global financial crisis.”
The happiest respondents have high levels of education, prestigious jobs such as executives and managers, and wages above MOP 30,000. People with low education, smaller salaries and low-skilled jobs reported the lowest levels of life satisfaction.
“This has been consistent during the whole period. There is a group that really isn’t benefitting from the economic development,” Whitfield stressed. Being unemployed had a particularly strong negative effect, the survey claims. “There is a lot the government and civil society organisation can do to improve people’s standard of living,” the scholar said.
But the study does reflect “a sense that Macau is doing well in comparison with people’s reference points (US, Europe and even China and Hong Kong)”. People in Macau are moderately satisfied with their lives and with living conditions in the territory.
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