Employee engagement has been one of the hottest topics in the region. Organizations have spent tremendous amounts of effort to innovate and maintain high engagement. Beyond the employee survey, in more dynamic and vibrant work environments, HR leaders are working on how to connect with their employees and to effectively convey key messages. Bo. H Kristensen, Korea General Manager and Yo-Han Lee, Korea Head of HR at Lego Korea, hosted ChapmanCG and around 20 HR leaders to discuss “Maintaining High Engagement in Dynamic Work Environments in Korea”.

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Changing leadership behaviors

Engagement is about creating positive changes in behaviors and then sustaining them. But everyone in attendance agreed that it’s easier said than done, especially when cultural norms can make bringing about change difficult. One company shared a case that looked into the root cause of their engagement issues. In Korea, organizations are known for their hierarchy, which means mindset changes that will lead to positive behavioral changes must first start at the top. So this organization collected feedback from various channels and organized a focus group that helped them realize they needed to ease up the pressure and tension by educating managers to respect employees’ working hours and facilitating bottom-up communication that encourages continuous discussions.

An interesting topic that also came up for discussion was power harassment. It might not be on the agenda of some countries in Asia-Pacific, but certainly, it can have a negative impact on employee morale. At times, some leaders are not aware that their management styles are too demanding and or that their requests are beyond certain subordinates’ scopes. But everyone was hopeful that these types of issues can be resolved through ongoing training and coaching.

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Engagement successes

How can organizations encourage employees to engage more? One Korean company shared their two successes:

  • Flexible work arrangements
  • First, they started to promote flexible working hours so employees can go to the office and work according to their schedules and needs. While everyone agreed that a program like that largely depends on the nature of the job, implementing this was seen as a positive step for Korean companies.
  • Internal job mobility
  • Second, they encouraged employees to apply for internal opportunities. (A participant noted that the organization had to be large enough to make this possible.) Individuals were able to apply for different roles anonymously and managers were not allowed to stop them if they were presented with an offer. This created some internal tension; however, it increased the competitiveness of business units and showed a commitment to employees.
  • While these two offerings are common in most Western organizations, they are still somewhat new in Korean businesses.

In summary, most organizations agreed that engagement had to begin with leadership behavioral changes, which would ultimately foster an environment of open and continuous communication, and that would lead to sustainable employee engagement—and ultimately lead to increased innovation.

Here's what participants had to say

The meeting gave me a lot of insights. Participants were exchanging sincere questions and answers on employee engagement. It was a very practical discussion when compared to other similar community meetings.

William Shin, HR Director, Philips

It was a great opportunity to exchange best practices from different companies. I again realized that there’s no one-size fits all solution when it comes to the people agenda.

Yohan Lee, Senior HR Manager, APAC Reward & Recogniction / Korea HR Partner (Head of HR), Lego Group

It was good to connect with HR leaders from around Korea once again. Cultural transformation in this environment is an important topic and the learning and experiences of others is extremely helpful.

Mark Polglaze, Vice President of Human Resources and Change Management, General Motors

ChapmanCG thanks all HR leaders who were in attendance and we hope to see you again at our next round-table.