A global salary survey predicts a slight cool-down in hiring, increasing attrition rates across SEA, and more demanding workforce expectations.

As employees shift their perspectives in a distributed global workforce, employers that offer hybrid working models, extensive healthcare plans, and align on social and political issues while proactively pipelining talent will have a competitive edge in attracting and retaining talent.

This is the conclusion of a Robert Walters global salary survey, which has also found that tactics such as salary counter-offers are increasingly used to ease rising attrition rates as organizations in the South-east Asian (SEA) region ramp up operations.

With technology and transformation expected to continue its rapid growth, traditional industries are looking to expand their tech-focused services—resulting in an unprecedented demand and scarcity for professionals with these skillsets.

Regional overview

Most economies in SEA, with the exception of Vietnam and Thailand, had rapidly rebounded in H1 2021. The rise of coronavirus variants affected manufacturing, but digital and tech experienced the greatest boost in hiring, accelerated by digital transformation initiatives of companies across all sectors.

Looking into 2022, the hiring market is expected to cool down slightly after a hectic boom, according to the report. Also:

  • The demand for local talent this year grew as expatriates returned home for good, and global mobility was significantly reduced due to limitations in travel, visas and work permits. This has contributed to increasing attrition rates as employees change jobs: a recurring pattern observed among countries that have come out of lockdowns.
  • There will be an increasing scarcity of professionals with skillsets to support companies looking to grow in fields such as technology, automation and analytics. Professionals in top demand across the region include those with financial services, with skillsets in the areas of digital transformation, customer engagement, virtual banking and front office roles. Those with specific skillsets in 5G rollouts, data analytics and blockchain, as well as those who are able to support edtech, health tech, and automation in manufacturing will also be highly sought after.
  • The pandemic has forced companies and workforces to scramble towards hybrid working, and two years on, the experience has shaped the perspectives of work. Beyond hybrid work arrangement options, professionals are willing to decline job offers from companies whose values do not align with theirs.
  • In 2022, hiring trends will focus on people and technology. More organizations are expected to hire support with finding candidates, while commercial and technology talents will continue to be in high demand across commerce and financial services sectors. 
  • Tech professionals with highly specialized technical skillsets, especially in emerging areas such as AI and machine learning, and other fields such as data, cybersecurity, digital and e-commerce, will see high demand.
  • Professionals with skillsets in governance, compliance and risk sectors, especially in dealing with financial crime, will be in demand in 2022. Beyond technical skills, resilient, adaptable, flexible and forward-thinking professionals who can manage teams and corporate culture remotely will be sought-after for their soft skills.  
  • Salaries in areas such as technology are expected to increase significantly due to the talent shortage. Across other areas, salary premiums of 10–15% are expected for professionals moving between jobs.   
  • 2021 saw a steep increase in corporate focus on mental health and employee well-being, resulting in virtual employee engagement strategies to prevent employee isolation during the rush to concurrently execute digital transformation efforts
  • For SEA respondents:
    • 71% indicated a preference for being able to work in the physical corporate office at least two to three days a week
    • 40% were inclined to decline jobs that required zero remote-working flexibility
    • 48% who preferred hybrid work arrangements indicated a need for better work-life balance
    • 43% who preferred hybrid work arrangements indicated a need for face-to-face interactions with co-workers
    • 36% who preferred hybrid work arrangements indicated a need to be allowed to choose when they wanted to work in the corporate office
    • 63% indicated it was important for their potential employers’ position on social and political issues to be aligned with their personal views. If there was a disparity, 60% ranked racial, cultural or religions matters as a top consideration for declining the job offer; 57% cited workers’ rights for the same reason to decline, and 55% cited diversity, inclusion and equality issues as critical for their decision to decline

According to Gerrit Bouckaert, Robert Walters’ Managing Director (SEA): “We are looking at a talent-driven hiring situation in 2022, with intense competition of talent with in-demand skillsets on one hand, and sharp attrition on the other. Companies will need to do more to deepen the engagement with their existing employees. As companies prepare to adjust to the relaxation of workplace measures, tackling the issue of having better work-life balance is key to a successful hybrid work arrangement.”

Monty Sujanani, the firm’s Country Manager, recommends firms to take a more proactive stance to check-in regularly, and have open and transparent discussions about areas such as career progression and job satisfaction. “This will certainly go a long way to minimize the need for counteroffers later when they resign. When it comes to interacting with potential hires, move quickly, keep the entire interview process short, and maximize each engagement opportunity. Continue to hire and invest for potential, and for niche skillsets that are non-existent in the local talent pool, consider programs that help to bring (workers) with these skillsets back from abroad.”

Two sides of the talent shift

The report suggest that in 2022, hiring managers looking to recruit and retain talent should deepen engagement with their existing talent as well, by addressing key concerns and implementing creative solutions and benefits to address flexibility, well-being, and communicating the company’s corporate stand in areas such as cultural matters and diversity.

For job seekers, the high level (98%) of candidates willing to learn and retrain new skills to stay employable points to continual upgrading via relevant courses such as in data analytics via corporate sponsorship or local governmental support where available.