The State of the Asian Workplace

By Udeet Datta

If there was ever a purely Asian persona that symbolized success in life despite obstacles, it would be Bruce Lee. This legendary martial artist, actor, and to some, a mentor and teacher, had a very simple take on life: “To hell with circumstances, I create opportunities.”

Through hard work and perseverance, Mr Lee overcame many trials and tribulations to eventually reach stardom. He revolutionized martial arts and action movies, but he came from humble beginnings. He once had a teacher too – when he most needed one, who he learned from.

Despite no longer being with us, we still admire him and look to his teachings for day-to-day inspiration and motivation. One could even call him a legendary leader, as he was to the very end for many of his students.

The truth of the matter is everyone experiences leadership moments and these moments occur more than we can imagine. Parenthood is the best example of this. As a child (the student), we learn and experience life (grow) and then one day we lead (become a parent).

This transition through life occurs in one other area as well, namely the workplace. There is no better environment to develop in than a turbulent one . At the moment, the Asian workplace does not have the best reputation as the employee satisfaction rates are not terrific. The blame game may not be the way forward. Perhaps analyzing the “circumstances” and then establishing the “opportunities” could be a start.


There is no shame in saying that we give 110% at the office for the possibility of moving up in our career. Though “work-life balance” and “passion for the job” are gratifying, soul-cleansing ideals, there is nothing like validation from a boss or mentor in the form of a promotion or pay-raise. In order to be recognized though, one must have the ability to speak their mind and convey opinions in relation to professional development and job scope. 

Surprisingly, the will to speak out and challenge the status quo is not as prominent in the East.  In fact, the lack of top-down engagement, or even two-way communication, has resulted in declining sentiments towards the Asian workplace, specifically in Singapore. This stems from an innate fear of speaking up, which is not only unfortunate on the individual level, but can be detrimental to the business as a whole.

Challenging the status quo is no small feat. However, if challenging the norm provides a path that leads to success, speaking out is imperative in serving a greater good.

Look. At. Me!

If we look at the greater APAC region, there are differing perspectives in relation to engagement and rewards.  Individuality, i.e. recognizing the individual as opposed to a team of individuals, has become a desire shared by employees in the workplace in places like India, Indonesia, and Thailand. Though not as much a priority, similar opinions are shared in places like Malaysia, Australia, and Hong Kong. 

The reason for this? An inherent need for the individual’s skills and talents to be recognized as opposed to the way these competencies contribute to a larger organizational success. Even if these competencies are recognized, validation is not provided to the employee via rewards. Teamwork is taking second place to individual acknowledgment and success. The core of this problem comes back to gaps in the engagement model within these work environments.

Studies have been conducted that link employee engagement to productivity and success. The Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) argues that companies that focus and prioritize employee engagement “vastly outperform” companies that do not take on these measures. In this day and age, a simple “great job” from a boss or even a colleague can go a long way.

Of course no one can admit this does not happen in Asia or APAC regions. Appraisals are taking prominence in our offices, so employees do experience validation on a personal level and are commended for the value they bring to their companies. The terrifying scenario for an organization is the employee who fears voicing their opinion or even approaching a superior. This sense of fear is a result of the engagement “deficit”, per se, which has the ability to reduce or even halt productivity and tremendously hinder employee retention. Sympathy is felt for the CHRO in these organizations!

Never fear, positivity is here

Well, the circumstances have been illustrated and a grim picture has been painted perhaps. Time to move on to discovering opportunities to affect positive change in organizations that experience engagement deficits.

Companies can explore enhanced training programs that incorporate digital mediums to ensure a more captivating experience, as opposed to a briefing in a conference room on a Monday morning. To break down the barriers that exists within the employer-employee paradigm, constant attention must be given. At AchieveForum, we truly do believe every person in an organization has that leadership moment and one of the key fundamentals to leading the right way is to engage effectively.

Here are three hacks to getting your team back on track:

  • Ensure trust exists between leaders and team. If it doesn’t, that’s the first place to start rebuilding.
  • Influence positive actions via constant communication and engagement.
  • Remain resilient in the face of adversity – this applies to all levels of the business.

Start empowering your team

Our team has, and will always be, dedicated to ensuring everyone whether they are senior leaders, managers, supervisors, or even everyday employees are equipped with the know-how to shine when that leadership moment presents itself. With the “circumstances” determined and the “opportunities” established, learning begins and we are here to guide workplaces in Asia and the greater APAC region through its leadership and development needs.

Bruce Lee also said, “Learning is never cumulative, it is a movement of knowing which has no beginning and no end.” We are your partners in ensuring your learning journey to becoming the best leader you can be doesn’t end so feel free to get in touch anytime.

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