A quarter of all Hong Kong employees experience 30% salary cut, looking for workplace flexibility

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15th July 2020 – (Hong Kong) The coronavirus continues to put the world on pause, affecting the quality of life and working habits of employees. JobsDB commissioned an independent survey organization in May to conduct an online survey among 3,100 employees and more than 800 hirers. The ‘COVID-19 Hong Kong Report’ published today finds that 18% of respondents have been temporarily or permanently retrenched, while 28% have faced salary reductions of over 30% as a direct result of the pandemic.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, many companies have transitioned to remote operation models in adherence to the government’s social distancing guidelines, with 43% of surveyed employees having experienced working from home. Organizations have continued to take preventative measures, with 41% of respondents open to more opportunities for remote working in the future. The effects of the pandemic will create a new normal, presenting new challenges that businesses will inevitably face. 

Companies across all industries will need to consider the adoption of new business models and restructuring their recruitment plans. 27% of surveyed enterprises are planning to hire in the next six to twelve months, with 64% of vacancies being junior-level positions for fresh graduates and other career starters amidst the current economic uncertainty. 

Low-wage workers most burdened by wage reductions and retrenchment 

In these challenging times, many enterprises have been forced to reduce wage expenses in order to maintain their financial health. Employees engaged in the food & beverage, tourism, advertising and marketing sectors have been most affected, with 18% of respondents facing temporary or permanent retrenchment. The survey concludes that more than one in four employees have faced salary reductions of over 30%, and another 46% have been negatively impacted in terms of remuneration. This can be attributed to various factors brought about by the outbreak, including reduced or suspended bonuses, suspension of salary increases, and salary freeze among others.

Employees were asked to rate their job happiness from a scale of one to ten (ten indicating the happiest). The current job happiness index averages at 4.8, a significant drop from the pre-pandemic average of 6.1. Employees from a variety of industries have unanimously expressed their reduced work happiness since the outbreak (see chart 1), as low-wage workers who earned a monthly salary of less than $11,000 have reportedly been impacted the most (see chart 2). The survey found that the most common concern among employees is job security (49%), followed closely by apprehensions over personal and family finances (45%). Moreover, 32% of respondents miss face-to-face communications with colleagues and customers, alongside the energy and spontaneity of office life. 

Mr. Isaac Shao, Chief Executive Officer of JobsDB Hong Kong, states, “the survey indicates that coronavirus has brought significant impact on the emotional well-being of employees. As the pandemic development in Hong Kong remains uncertain in July, there are some serious concerns about job security and operations. Companies need to take greater initiative in strengthening communications and providing emotional support for employees, and to better stimulate team spirit and bring a higher sense of belonging and achievement.”  

Remote working is gaining prevalence as facilitated by the coronavirus

Many public and private organizations have implemented public health measures to ensure the safety of their employees and help contain the coronavirus. Among the 43% of surveyed employees who worked from home, more than 60% are classified as being engaged in education, information technology, and public and civil services. Almost half (48%) of employees required to work from home had changed their times of work, for example, in the evenings and at weekends, and 43% were working long hours.

41% of respondents would like to work more hours from home in the future, while 26% would prefer to work less hours. Nevertheless, it is clear that the pandemic has fundamentally transformed the working habits of many Hong Kongers. 

Mr. Isaac Shao says: “Workplace cultures around the world have undergone unprecedented change as a result of the coronavirus. With regards to human resource management, organizations should already be considering alternative operation models by implementing flexible labour arrangements. Given the current circumstances, workplace and work-time autonomy are effective incentives that can help attract new talent. The circumstances have also facilitated digital transformation in business operations, as more companies are introducing tools such as cloud storage and video conferencing applications, which help strengthen productivity when employees work from home. In the long run, the transformation is conducive to company competitiveness.”

Hirers approach job recruitment with increasing discretion

Corporate hirers are becoming increasing prudent in their approach to job recruitment. According to the survey, 27% of organizations are expecting to launch post-pandemic recruitment plans in the next six to twelve months. However, 35% were uncertain about resuming recruitment at this stage, holding less positive views towards the near future of their industries. 

In the coming six months, jobs in sales, customer services and business development (28%) will be in higher demand, followed by jobs in administration and human resources (20%), accounting (17%), as well as marketing and public relations (17%). 64% of available positions will be junior or entry-level jobs, alleviating the pressures of employment faced by 2020 graduates and other career starters. Moreover, 81% of hirers have stated that they will not factor pandemic-related retrenchments in their future assessment of candidates, while 14% have even revealed that they are more likely to hire job seekers who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19.

Chart 1Job happiness index: Five Most Impacted Industries 
(sorted by industry, with ten points being the happiest)

IndustryJob Happiness Index 
pre-COVID-19
Job Happiness Index 
post-COVID-19
Overall6.14.8 (↓1.3)
Clothing / Garment / Textile 6.0 3.3 (↓2.7)
Beauty & Health 6.6 4.3 (↓2.3)
Food & Beverage 6.2 4.3 (↓1.9)
Retail 6.3 4.5 (↓1.8)
Tourism / Travel 6.6 4.9 (↓1.7)


Chart 2Job happiness index (sorted by income, with ten points being the happiest)

Monthly Salary (HKD)Job Happiness Index 
pre-COVID-19
Job Happiness Index 
post-COVID-19
<$11,000 6.3 4.1 (↓2.2)
$11,000 to <$17,000 5.8 4.5 (↓1.3)
$17,000 to <$30,000 6.0 4.7 (↓1.3)
$30,000 to <$70,000 6.2 5.0 (↓1.2)
$70,000+ 6.4 5.6 (↓0.8)
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