The New Asian Workplace: Who Will Take Charge?


The HR function as we know it is being radically disrupted due to technological change, new business models and the advent of novel subordinate functions like “business associates” replacing ‘employees’. In addition, as the centre of gravity of management shifts towards Asia, each of the three rising models of Human Development from China, India and Southeast Asia needs to take responsibility for their human development principles and management practices.

On 1 June 2018, Dr Bob Aubrey, Chairman of the HR Committee of the European Chamber of Commerce in Singapore, Mr Sriven Naidu, Director of Programme Development and Partnership at the Singapore Management University and Mr Syed Ali Abbas, Group HR Director at Global Fashion Group, discussed the need for HR’s reinvention and what this means to the region.

Dr Bob Aubrey and Mr Naidu, who co-wrote the featured article on the topic in THink’s April 2018 Issue, begun by summarising the main arguments of the article to start the discussion. They described the two converging shifts in Asia: from salaried, full-time employment to a contingent workforce, and the technology shift. This leads to a situation where workers are increasingly on their own and must find ways to stay employable. While this grants a greater degree of freedom to an individual, it also gives them more responsibility that they may be unable to handle on their own, leading to the main argument of the article and discussion: “Who will take charge?”. They then asserted that Asia must take the lead in addressing human development issues, especially since it is crucial for the development of the countries in the region.

Mr Abbas shared his own thoughts and examples of these shifts throughout the years in various companies. For example, companies in the e-commerce industry operate at such a fast pace that they have to pull in resources and people from outside their organisations. While there are less limitations on who can work on projects, such a flexible model also means there is an erosion of the support system for people’s career. There is also talent pressure where companies either become attractive enough to pull in the right talent or develop their own, which requires investing in talent development.

Mr Abbas agreed that HR needs to be reinvented, adding that there is a gap between what companies need from HR and what HR is delivering. He spoke about how some big companies have tried assigning business leaders to oversee HR, who then linked HR more closely to the business. However, this has largely failed as these leaders did not have an innate understanding of people and the foresight gathered from HR experience. Due to the failure of such experiments, CEOs have become more decided on having HR professionals taking charge of HR, though Mr Abbas acknowledged that this is not an excuse to stick to the status quo since HR now is not good enough and professionals must change the way things are done.

The discussion concluded with the panel taking questions from the audience, including how governments can support a freelance workforce, about investments in human capital especially when companies are not able to afford them and if unions can be formed for freelance workers.

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