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Q&A with Stanley Yau, HR director, HK Express

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Stanley Yau, director of human resources and administration at HK Express, gives Samantha Chan a sneak peak into what it takes to cultivate engaged and productive employees.

Vital Stats: With a track record of nearly 20 successful years in human resources management to his credit, Stanley Yau has enriched more than 1,000 young employees in his first year at HK Express.

Q How would you define HK Express’ business environment and company culture?
In a nutshell, HK Express is young, energetic and flexible. Since 2013, not only has HK Express been the sole low-cost carrier in Hong Kong’s market, we are also the youngest and smallest among the four Hong Kong local carriers. Although our market share and recognition have increased steadily in these five years, we are still relatively young and so are our employees who exhibit tremendous vibrant energies.

The concept of low-cost carriers is to be able to accommodate our customers’ various needs. We have reshaped the market landscape and changed the travel behaviour of Hong Kong citizens. There’s a saying, “Big fish eats small fish. Quick fish eats slow fish”. We are yet to be the big fish, so now we can only be quick. Our reaction to the market’s needs is always on point.

Agility is also highlighted internally. Instead of commanding employees to imitate legacy airline approaches or previous cases, we always encourage new ideas, as being adventurous and creative is the basis of our company.

Q Airlines are known to have high turnover rates. How do you retain talent at HK Express?
It depends. In the first half of 2018, there was a sharp decline (over 20% to 30%) in our general staff turnover rate compared to the first half of 2017. According to our internal employee satisfactory survey conducted in July, the satisfaction score of all crew and office staff has also soared (from +16 to +19%) and sick leave rate has reduced by 40% in the last six to nine months.

We believe this is due to our proactive role in engaging our employees. Since last October, we have designed a series of schemes to facilitate effective communication to understand their mindset.

Our first step is to review all our current salary and benefits considering compensation and benefits have continuously been the top factor for any employee to stay or leave. Increasing annual leave, introducing standby allowances and raising the taxi allowance are some of our approaches. We also established a buddy flight scheme for cabin crew. Each crew can assign a certain workmate to fly together. We hope that this can motivate them to fly more.

On the administrative and legal side, in order to ease our employees’ anxiety and deliver a message that we want to have a long relationship with them, we offered our general staff and cabin crew an option to update their three-year contracts to permanent contracts.

Other than these flashy perks, it is our corporate culture that drives employee performance and happiness. We, as the management team, strive to be open-minded and caring. We provide a lot of growth and career advancement opportunities to our staff which is not constrained by their age or experience. Anyone with an outstanding performance is guaranteed to have a faster career.

We are determined to improve our management team’s visibility by spending important days together. On Chinese New Year, red packets are given from our top management; and on New Year’s Eve, we welcome the last crew at the airport.

As previously mentioned, most of our employees are fairly young.

“Young people nowadays are mavericks at heart. They are not afraid to speak their mind and have an urge to have a say in matters. Therefore, we knock down hierarchy and bureaucracy and create a lot of communication channels.”

Every two months, we organise a half-day forum hosted by the department heads, management team and our HR team. We update them on our current situation and future development, and they tell us their feedback and concerns at the workplace. We mark down every response and discuss afterwards. Granted or not, we notify them the results via a support mail box system.

On entertainment, we regularly host barbecue parties, coffee latte art workshops and recreational clubs.

Q With hundreds of applications coming in every day, how do you effectively identify the skills and competencies needed for the various roles?
Apart from interviews held by HR and line managers, we are adapting scientific tools to select the right talent such as Harrison assessments for more senior roles. Gamification is our big plan for the future as it is in line with our corporate culture “Fun Factor” and it also reflects one’s personality.

We are currently developing an adventure-based app for junior applicants and current staff. A report will be generated at the end to rate one’s problem solving skills. Some of our employees are already using it and they are having a lot of fun.

Q What are the tips for your successful global talent recruitment this year?
The pool of local aviation talent is small in Hong Kong, and therefore HK Express continues to expand our recruitment channels globally. We have held career roadshows in Frankfurt, Osaka and Busan in the past 18 months. The talent demographics shift every year so we always update our analysis. To attract more international talent, we are constantly reviewing and fine-tuning our compensation and benefits packages.

The key to this year’s success is we made an effort to present our HK Express company culture to potential candidates. We invited our foreign pilots and cabin crews to share their HK Express experience and Hong Kong’s culture during the roadshows.

Q What will be your future approach?
Social media and instant messaging have changed the mindsets and behaviour of billions of people in the world. These have also reshaped the talent management landscape. Inevitably, we have to mould our talent management process with employees’ concerns such as engagement, instant responsiveness, fun and individualism at the back of our mind. New technologies can help, but the most important thing is to continue the transparency and agility of our top management.

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