By Melissa J. Anderson

A new study by Catalyst looks into the realities of work-life for employees in Asia. The organization believes that global companies can better approach talent management with a nuanced understanding of local needs and cultures. The authors of the report, Laura Sabattini and Nancy M. Carter write, “As with other workplace strategies, implementing work-life programs requires the thoughtful integration of a global approach and local customs to ensure the strategies make sense in employees’ day-to-day lives.”

Additionally, they explain, because women are rapidly entering the workforce in these countries, and women are often more concerned with work-life challenges than men, companies looking to gain an advantage by tapping into this underused source of talent should seek to meet work-life needs. “Hiring skilled women can provide a competitive advantage for global companies, especially in countries such as India and China, where women’s economic and workforce participation is on the rise.”

Work Life Needs

The study, “Expanding Work-Life Perspectives: Talent Management in Asia,” polled 1,834 men and women working in Asia for US or European-based organizations. The individuals polled were in entry level to mid-management roles. About half (48%) were in a line position, 14% were in a line and staff role, and 37% were in a staff role. Slightly more than half (53%) had children living at home, and 41% said they had managed eldercare responsibilities in the past year.

They authors write, “We found many gender similarities in women’s and men’s ratings of how they managed work and personal demands. About half of respondents said that managing work and other aspects of life was currently difficult for them.”

Despite the significant family responsibilities reported by the sample, almost all (89%) said they planned to move onto the next level within the next five years, and there were no gender differences in this percentage, say Sabattini and Carter. Over half (56%) said they hoped to reach executive or c-suite roles someday.

The majority of respondents (60%) said their companies were “responsive enough to employee work-life needs,” although more women than men were dissatisfied with their companies’ response to work-life challenges (38% to 33% respectively).

Nevertheless, despite this high level of satisfaction with corporate work-life policies, the report continues, “for more than 80 percent of respondents our analyses showed a gap between their workplace flexibility and their work-life needs.”

The authors add, “Notably, among those who viewed managing work and personal life as challenging, the struggle came from work-related (e.g., schedule conflict and overwork) rather than from family related concerns.” Employees view work as the challenge, rather than family responsibilities. Catalyst suggests that this may mean that while companies have fair work-life policies in place, they aren’t being carried out in practice.

Connection between Flexibility and Wellbeing

The report also revealed a connection between high levels of work-life satisfaction and wellbeing. The authors explain:

  • “Respondents who reported challenges managing work and personal life were especially likely to report that they were frequently prioritizing work over family.
  • “Respondents who said that it was easy for them to manage work and personal life were more likely to also say workplace flexibility was prevalent within their company; that is, the more flexibility, the easier for respondents to manage work-life demands.
  • “Respondents who said that it was easy for them to manage work and personal life were also more likely to report high levels of well-being compared to employees who reported they had difficulty managing work and personal life.”

People who were having trouble managing work and personal responsibilities said their challenges were work related. People who said managing work and personal responsibilities wasn’t a problem for them also said their workplaces enabled flexibility. Finally, those individuals for whom managing work and personal responsibilities had higher levels of wellbeing, compared to those individuals who had more trouble with work-life challenges.

One of the most striking things in the report was the similarities between men and women in discussing work-life challenges. Women reported slightly higher instances of work-life conflict, but overall, the genders were fairly similar in discussing their work-life needs. As Western companies establish stronger footholds in Asian countries, this different gender dynamic will be critical to keep in mind, as they develop new work-life management initiatives.