Boyden: Finance Professionals In Asia Fear Reputational Damage When Asking About Work/Life Balance

An increasing number of finance professionals in Asia are quizzing agency recruiters about whether the banking jobs they are applying for offer a reasonable work-life balance.

This is often as far as it gets, however. The same candidates are reluctant to broach the subject of work-life balance with a new potential employer at a job interview out of fear it will mark them out as a “slacker”.

“More and more candidates in Asia are preferring jobs offering them a better work-life balance – it’s a noticeable shift in recent years,” says Adrian Choo, a partner at Boyden Global Executive Search in Singapore. “I’ve seen APAC regional sales directors who don’t mind taking a pay cut and handling a smaller geography just to spend more time with their families.”

Recruiters say that some candidates in Asia are staying away from roles at global investment banks not just because of their reputation for making quick-fire redundancies but also because of concerns about working hours. “I’ve had people turn down opportunities at Goldman Sachs because of its image of long working hours,” says Kyle Blockley, managing partner at recruitment firm KS Consulting in Singapore.

The candidates most concerned about work-life balance in Asia largely fall into two groups, says Choo: Generation-Y finance professionals who want to free up time to pursue personal interests and middle-aged people (men as well as women) with children who want to spend more time with their families.

“These days I am consistently seeing senior banking executives becoming consultants for work-life balance reasons, advising on the strategic initiatives, risk, regulatory issues etc,” says Erick Zhou, associate director of banking and financial services at recruiters Lloyd Morgan in Shanghai. “But work-life balance is not necessarily an issue for middle-level job movers, especially in China, which is an aggressive, competitive market where people are striving for quicker career advancement.”

When you can’t mention work-life balance

While candidates are happy to chat to recruiters about work-life balance and banks in Asia are happy to talk up the success of their work-life balance programmes, mentioning the subject at a job interview remains taboo.

“Never say ‘I want better work-life balance’ during an interview – employers in Asia will get a bad impression that you’re a slacker – it’s a deal breaker in this region,” says Choo from Boyden Global. “You don’t raise it as an issue. Every bank will say they try to look after their staff, but they all honestly know that the hours can be long,” says Blockley from KS Consulting.

There are, however, ways of finding out about work-life at a particular bank without revealing your own motivations.

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