When digitalization is rushed and not made sensitive to employee needs, it can be a double-edged sword in a digital world …

Imagine CEOs receiving a Letter of Demand from employees that goes something like this:

Today we stand before you, ripping up the old playbook–yes, the one you rewrote just this past year–and we are demanding change.

And we demand it because we care about this organization. It’s capable of better: better ideas; better innovations; better performance. We don’t want this organization to become irrelevant.

And so here are our demands:

  1. The resources leaders need to deal with employees’ evolved expectations. Emotional labor isn’t free labor.
  2. A workplace designed around our needs today. With the right technology and the right culture to thrive with hybrid work.
  3. A sustained and visible commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Actions, not words.
  4. Real mental health and well-being support. An app isn’t going to fix it. The culture needs to change.

We can’t go back to the old ways of doing things – we won’t go back. We’re already living in the new normal; we need to start working there, too.

Yours (for now),


Overall, the past two years of the global COVID-19 pandemic have caused employees around the world to experience work and workplace-challenges differently, to develop evolving career, job and social expectations that will have a long-lasting impact on employers.

In the Asia Pacific region (APAC), employee experience (EX) trends were followed by Qualtrics, and results show that only 33% of employees surveyed across the region (including Japan) had reported that their current work experiences were exceeding expectations.

The data, collected during August to Nov 2021 from 11,802 respondents 18 years of age or older who were employed full-time across 12 countries and 20 industries, showed employers and employees alike were grappling with unprecedented multi-dimensional challenges amid pockets of the Great Resignation movement.

Apps not a fix for talent retention?

The data showed that employees in the survey cared about flexibility, well-being, inclusion and purpose in the workplace:

  • The demographics group most likely to move jobs included women, those aged under 24, and individual contributors.
  • Half of the employees surveyed in Singapore had plans to remain with their employer this year. 24% of Singaporean respondents stated that they were underwhelmed by the technologies provided in hybrid environments.
  • 35% of respondents in APAC and Japan indicated that being made to return to the office full time would make them consider looking for new work.
  • Managers faced challenges in adapting to the hybrid work environment while maintaining the productivity of their teams, fostering collaboration and maintaining work culture.
  • Singapore was facing a 15-year high in talent shortages, prompting employers to find new approaches to retain them.
  • Employers will need to retain talent retention by building a culture of inclusion, learning and development, by focusing on initiatives to improve staffs’ well-being this year.
  • Across all regions there was a focus on talent retention, professional development may help by ensuring employees feel their career goals can be met with the company.
  • Key drivers in APAC and Japan that motivated respondents to stay included:
    • A sense of belonging
    • Confidence in meeting career goals in current employment
    • Positivity at work
    • Belief in the employer’s future
    • Being energized at work
  • The survey data showed a 20% decline in middle managers’ intent to stay in their jobs.
  • With reduced office time, employee engagement now goes beyond supplying staff with material comforts such as coffee machines or snack perks, into efforts to ensure individual well-being, good training and growth prospects; flexible work options, personalized benefits and remuneration; and a positive, fair corporate culture.
  • Australian and New Zealand respondents suffered a drop of 12% in employee resilience over that in 2020. In Japan this was worse, at 16%. South-east Asian respondents registered a 6% boost in well-being.

In the findings, apps and automation were both part of the solution (by bridging geographical distances and allowing much work to be done remotely) and part of the problems (friction due to too many identity authentication procedures, or supervisors’ abuse of the digital accessibility of staff even beyond standard working hours).

Middle managers faced many shares of woes

At the realm between employers and workers are the middle managers, who have also had to grapple with challenges.

In addition to circumventing remote-working constraints and ever-changing pandemic restriction policies, they have had to maintain staff productivity, foster collaborative teams and preserve a semblance of company culture—while being held to difficult KPIs by their directors.

Managers have been asked to adopt new skills and leadership styles while supporting employees through uncertainty, creating additional strain in their already stressful positions. According to Qualtrics researchers, this group of employees will need enhanced learning and development programs, coaching and training, in additional to support from existing and emerging senior leaders. Empowering this group of leaders with additional expertise will not only keep them motivated and stay on the job, but also improve their ability to engage and retain their teams.

Said Will Fan, co-founder and CEO, NewCampus: “If the average employee becomes a manager at age 30 but only gets meaningful management training and development at age 40, that 10-year gap could account for many people leaving due to being made to report to a manager not skilled enough to motivate subordinates.”

Addressing this scenario, training firms are actually offering “cohort-based” management courses that stressed-out middle managers who cannot take two years off for a full-time MBA can attend online: to be more adaptable, empathetic yet effective.

Facing Great Resignations with Great Acceptance

It is paradoxical that the urgent and vital digital transformation that rescued many businesses and organizations could have led to talent attrition or at least, did not lead to increases in talent retention.

According to Sandie Overtveld, Vice President and General Manager (Asia Pacific), WalkMe, the good news is that Digital Transformation can and will be made inclusive and less a cause of talent attrition. He also said: “CIOs today understand that the bigger the company technology stack, the harder it is to go beyond the basics in terms of analyzing and improving employees’ user experience. If organizations can view across the entire ecosystem, they can analyze which applications are popular, which are ineffective, which ones employees avoid altogether; and exactly why that is. Does the onboarding process even explain how the application works? Are there easy ways for users to get help when they struggle? And have staff actually completed tutorials? Without this overarching view, organizations will struggle to match, let alone exceed, employees’ IT experience expectations.”

Finally, in accepting that some factors behind the Great Resignation are too complex and beyond the ability of every organization to address, there should come a Great Acceptance among employers to do their utmost to help talent who are leaving, and to keep all doors open for the future.