A RECENT survey by British-based institute Roffey Park shed light on the motivations, or rather the demotivations of managers in Singapore’s workforce.

With 63 per cent of managers looking for new jobs, organisations should be sitting up and wondering what is going wrong. In the production and manufacturing sector alone, a whopping 79 per cent of managers want to move from their current jobs.

I spoke to some managers about the findings of the Roffey Park survey, and their experiences may shed some light on why organisations are facing a talent drain:


Changing job scopes at a whim

A manager from a manufacturing firm commented on how his company added the clause “any other ad hoc duties” at the end of the job description he was supplied with.

At various intervals into the job, he had been seconded to other departments to cover for suddenly absent colleagues with no proper handover process. With few clues to do his “new” tasks, he was basically winging it as he went along.

The pressure of being held responsible for the outcome of the other departments during the periods he was assigned to them (especially without any guidance) was too great for him to bear, and he resigned after a few months.


Overpromising the decision-making power

A director of a small-and-medium sized enterprise (SME) hired three general managers in succession within the span of two years. The longest serving general manager (GM) remained in the company for only one year.

Subordinates who dealt with one resignation after another shared the unhappiness of the GMs about the lack of autonomy in decision-making. Some of them had to continually consult the SME’s director for “little” things such as clothing material for their workers.

One GM commented to her subordinate that the SME was actually not in need of a general manager; what it really wanted was an operations manager to execute the director’s decisions and run the show.


Perceived unfairness of financial rewards

With bonuses secretly disbursed but publicly discussed among staff members, some managers of a better-performing business unit complained that those in a declining business unit received similar rewards.

Without clear policies on how bonuses are decided and without a satisfactory answer from the directors, the managers who felt unfairly compensated decided to quit together, causing a frantic scramble to find new managers to supervise the bewildered staff, leading to a situation discussed in point 1.


Not supporting innovation and productivity initiatives

Singapore’s labour chief Lim Swee Say warned during the Budget debate that labour-intensive sectors which use outdated tools and methods are pulling down labour productivity levels. He observed that “some companies are resisting change and would rather go out of business than change their operations.”

His remarks strike a chord with the production manager of a food manufacturer. After arranging for meetings with organisations pushing for innovation and productivity initiatives such as e2i’s Inclusive Growth Programme, the production manager proposed several ideas to the Board of Directors.

He waited in vain for any decision to be made as the directors hemmed and hawed over the investment, even after multiple refinements to the proposals. They refused to commit to a decision until they saw a competitor taking a similar step. The dismayed production manager persevered for a couple of years, then gave up and quit.


Vague corporate directions from Board of Directors

Vague directions from the Board Of Directors stalled one marketing manager’s advertising and promotion (A&P) plan for nine months. Another manager spent four months and made 20 revisions to simple marketing collateral because of last-minute major changes from each of the several directors at different stages of the process.

Both have also repeatedly asked for clear directions to set their key performance indicators or KPIs and information about their career prospects so that they know what they need to achieve a promotion, but are given vague replies such as “depends on the economy and company performance”.

This is such an unproductive use of their time that both managers are wondering whether they have any career prospects in the company at all. Their company has a turnover rate of more than 15 per cent and cynical staff members joke that they don’t bother to remember the names of newcomers till they have worked in the company for at least two months.

The last straw for a manager in another company was when her superior, a highly capable and experienced general manager, was asked to leave after six months, and informed that she had to officially announce her resignation, although she had no intention to leave.

There was no clear indication whether someone would take over her duties and her subordinates were left to figure out their department mission and KPIs by themselves for an indefinite period.


Wake-up Call

From the experiences of the managers described above, it is clear that some organisations provide no sense of job protection or security, have opaque views of staff career progression, and continuously constrain managers from trying out ideas that raise productivity and innovation.

These are the surest ways these companies will lose their talent, demotivate their workers and reduce their sustainability and prospects for success in today’s competitive global environment.


Article by Adrian Tan, managing director of RecruitPlus Consulting.