asia pacific and australasia
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
package, if the shortlist includes other candidates who come with spouse and
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
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
"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.