Well-padded expats

Some
expats still receive hardship allowances from their employers, as well as perks
for a comfortable lifestyle such as larger houses and school fees for those
with children. Single men and women should drive a hard bargain for equal
benefits, writes Ed Peters

One
of the best-selling humorous books in Asia at present is Hardship Posting, a
collection of true anecdotes about expatriate life in the Far East. The book
draws its title from a contributor in Bangkok who took his boss from London on
an evening out on the town After dining extremely well, they moved on to some
of the more lively bars where the carousing didn’t stop until the early hours.
Finally bidding his boss farewell, the executive suddenly remembered an
important point he had not mentioned during the previous day’s business
discussion, "By the way, I forgot to talk to you about increasing the
hardship allowance," he breezed.

It
may sound incredible but it is nevertheless strictly true that some expats in
the upper echelons of Asian business circles still qualify for what is, in name
at least, a hardship allowance, even those living in modern cities such as Hong
Kong or Singapore.

While
it supposedly compensates for the loss of home comforts, anybody drawing it is
going to be enjoying a reasonably comfortable lifestyle in the first place. A
typical package for a well-placed financier, for example, would include
housing, probably in an apartment block with pool and gym attached, furnishing
of the housing, one or more club memberships, tickets home two or three times a
year, travelling in business class at the very least, generous
no-serious-questions-asked expense accounts and maybe even local taxes pre-paid
into the bargain.

Add
to this an even larger house and school fees taken care of if the expat happens
to be married with children. Which means single men and women should be able to
drive a fairly hard bargain themselves when it comes to negotiating their package,
if the shortlist includes other candidates who come with spouse and children
attached.

Once
the expat is in place, HR departments usually make every effort to keep him or
her happy. Confronted with an outsize bouquet of flowers on moving into her
flat in Hong Kong, a newly arrived executive for Marks & Spencer rang up
the HR director to ask what she had done to deserve them. Reading between the
lines of the answer, basically the company had spent such a lot of money
installing her, the price of three-dozen roses was a drop in the ocean.

Of
course, it is not solely expats who are being tempted with well-padded
packages, although their benefits do have a corresponding effect on local pay
and conditions.

Generally,
the larger corporations in Asia Pacific tend to go for a
"catch-them-young" strategy, aiming to talent spot at an early age
and draw them into a corporate family.

"We
concentrate very much on graduate recruitment," says Lyanna Chan of
PricewaterhouseCoopers in Hong Kong. "In general we have an acceptance
rate of 80 per cent and we have training programmes in place to help staff with
their professional exams. As a result, our pass rate is double the average in
Hong Kong."

Once
the golden handshake has been proffered, most companies also seek to delicately
affix a set of golden handcuffs to capitalise on their investment in personnel.

"We
make sure we pay a premium to top performers, and the very best of them are
rewarded with a partnership, while we also structure pay to make it tax
efficient," says Chan.

PricewaterhouseCoopers
also allows its staff flexible working hours, providing extra support at unduly
busy times so employees can strike an appropriate balance between home and
office. More recently, some employees have also qualified for education
allowances.

While
some employees will always be tempted to jump ship when better pay and
conditions are offered, there is a tendency in Asia Pacific to stick with a
company you know.

Malcolm
Leung, an American passport holder of Chinese descent, who has worked in HR in
Thailand, the Philippines and Hong Kong, notes that in general rewarding
workers in the region generously keeps staff wastage to a minimum.

"There
was a time in Hong Kong when everybody would move on the moment they got their
year-end bonus – it was like the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party as they all shifted
round a place," he said. "Then companies got smart and started paying
better wages over the whole year, rather than dangling a lump sum at the end.
Another major factor is that Asians respond very well to teambuilding, and if
everyone in the company is enjoying similar benefits, be they cash bonuses or
other perks, then there is a marked reluctance to leave unless there’s a really
good reason."

While
expatriates in Asia Pacific continue to enjoy some of the best remuneration,
they are an increasingly rare breed. The future is likely to see more graduates
from the region climbing up the ladder, trained and assisted by the company
which talent-spotted them fresh out of college.

Further
information

www.towersperrin.com

www.deloittetouche.com

www.wmmercer.com

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