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HUMAN RESOURCES: Work-Life Programs Can't Be "One-Size-Fits-All"

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By A Correspondent

Developing Effective Work-Life Approaches Can Help Global Companies in Asia Tap More Talent - Especially Women

While both women and men in Asia have high career aspirations, more women than men experience lack of workplace flexibility as a career obstacle.

According to Catalyst’s latest study, Expanding Work-Life Perspectives: Talent Management in Asia, there’s a mismatch between employees’ workplace flexibility needs and work-life programs at global companies in Asia: It’s possible that programs offered may not be the right fit regionally and, as a result, people may not feel comfortable using them.

To be effective, the report suggests, work-life programs can’t be “one-size-fits-all”—organizations need to develop localized approaches that take diverse cultural contexts and customs into account.

The Catalyst report explores the work-life perspectives of over 1,800 high-potential employees in countries throughout Asia and includes an additional section comparing responses from India, China, and Singapore. Separate in-depth reports on India, China, and Singapore provide further insights about high-potential women and men working in these three countries.

“Work-life effectiveness in Asia has been relatively unexamined and is critical in a region that needs to develop talent to meet the demands of dynamic economic growth,” said Ilene H. Lang, President & CEO of Catalyst. “In India and China, where women’s economic and workforce participation is on the rise, tapping into women’s talents and finding the right work-life solutions directly impact the ability of companies to recruit, develop, and retain promising employees—enhancing workplace performance, the bottom line, and competitive advantage.”

Among the key findings, the study found that:

  • Both women and men in Asia are very ambitious about career advancement but also value having a good fit between work and their personal lives—90 percent rated work-life fit as “very important”—and they appreciate workplace flexibility.
  • Although respondents were relatively satisfied with the level of flexibility at their companies, our analysis showed that for more than 80 percent there’s a gap between the level of workplace flexibility employees say they need and the flexibility actually provided, and women were less satisfied than men.
  • Among those who had scaled back their ambitions to attain more senior positions, both women and men cited job pressures, long hours, stress on relationships, and other work-life challenges as the main reasons for their decision.

A special section of the report on China, India, and Singapore explores and compares work-life experiences among respondents working in these different cultural and national contexts. While all respondents reported high levels of job focus and career ambition:

  • Indian respondents had the highest short- and long-term career aspirations: 98 percent said they hoped to advance to a higher-level position in the next five years, vs. 91 percent in China and 86 percent in Singapore. Seventy-eight percent in India said their long-term goal was to reach CEO or senior leadership positions, vs. 52 percent in China and 51 percent in Singapore.
  • In terms of work-life priorities: Women and men from China reported the highest level of job focus (75 percent). Respondents from India (27 percent) and Singapore (26 percent) were also more likely than other countries to have a dual work-family focus. Singapore had the highest percentage of respondents with a family focus (17 percent).
  • Respondents from China were less satisfied with the level of workplace flexibility than those in India and Singapore—57 percent in China said there’s enough flexibility, vs. 72 percent in India and 74 percent in Singapore.

To help companies further develop effective and localized work-life strategies, the report offers questions for consideration which include: What does work-life fit mean to your employees, and what kinds of work-life supports will be most helpful in your specific cultural context? What flexible programs are available in your organization? Do they align with cultural needs and norms? Do women and men at your organization have similar flexibility needs?


Report findings were based on responses of 1,834 high-potential employees (44 percent women and 56 percent men) working in China, Hong Kong, India, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand for U.S.- or European-based global organizations.

Research Partners:

BMO Financial Group, Chevron Corporation, Credit Suisse, Deloitte LLP, Desjardins Group, Deutsche Bank AG, Ernst & Young, Hewlett-Packard Company, IBM Corporation, KeyBank, McDonald’s Corporation, UPS


Founded in 1962, Catalyst is the leading nonprofit membership organization expanding opportunities for women and business. With offices in the United States, Canada, Europe, and India, and more than 500 preeminent corporations as members, Catalyst is the trusted resource for research, information, and advice about women at work. Catalyst annually honors exemplary organizational initiatives that promote women's advancement with the Catalyst Award.

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