“Today’s youngsters, when they graduate, they need money,” says CY Chan, head of talent engagement and corporate social investment at HK Broadband, which provides high-speed broadband to residential housing blocks in Hong Kong. Chan says the company’s pay rates can be “even more competitive” than the market.
Although the firm does offer some benefits – sponsoring staff, including promoters and installers, to pursue degrees – Chan is dismissive of perks like free food. “We don’t go in that direction,” he says. “We try to focus on what can really motivate our people.”
HK Broadband launched a co-ownership programme in 2012 as part of an exit plan for a private capital firm that had previously bought out the telecommunications company. It lets employees use their savings to invest in the company’s stock, with the firm itself offering bonus shares. Currently more than a 10th of HK Broadband’s 3,000 staff are co-owners, including Chan, who’s been with the company for seven years.
There’s a long history of companies that have forged a more progressive approach. Co-operatives like the John Lewis Partnership, where everyone from the boss to the shelf-stacker on the shop floor get the same annual bonus, and the Quaker-influenced businesses of the late Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century that ensured workers earned a wage that they could live on, got regular time-off and were involved in the business through work councils. Some, like chocolate-maker Cadbury, even built entire communities around their factories.
“They knew that was a way to produce loyal staff,” Brown says. “I think we have kind of lost focus on that. You don’t get into business if you can’t afford to pay your suppliers, so why should you go into business if you can’t pay staff enough to live. It’s simple really.”
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