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Employers Mini Guidebook to Myanmar - Part 1

Posted on 1/10/2015 by Simon Bruce

A two part series on the challenges and solutions for companies in Myanmar seeking to find and retain staff - Part 1: Myanmar – the HR Perspective

For existing business in Myanmar and those starting, it is vital you know the challenges you and your team will find, for example how to find suitable staff and how to keep them. There are incredible opportunities in Myanmar but in the business environment, over the years with no change in business trends, we have seen a lack of talented, bilingual, skilled labour, especially if we focus on people with management skills. This is not an unusual issue as there is the same problem in many developing countries around the world.

For Myanmar this is due to corporate structures over many years being traditionally created and retained in an outdated style. Organisations have been run with a top down approach. The company structure has typically been a wide base and only a few, a select few, in leadership and strategic guiding positions, passing orders down the line.

The SMEs in the country were few and far between, we find massive corporations run as sales centric businesses or extremely small businesses with one person covering many job functions.

This has created a pattern. We find large numbers of staff capable of fulfilling the basic job functions in a particular role. For example, within HR, this covers payroll and recruitment. For Accounting & Finance this involves bookkeeping, accounts payable and accounts receivable.

Employers in the current market have enjoyed many years of extremely low labour costs.  But this has caused a problem as they have not had competitive pressures that would have pushed for automation, systemisation and work place efficiencies. The result is a very “manual” labour force with little or no exposure to standard systems and technology that are common in most other markets. Also, there is minimal awareness about the concept of continuous self improvement for staff and worse still, no ability to plan and strategise.

There have been many comparisons made between the Vietnam HR market of the last 10 years and the problems now found in Myanmar.  We agree there are strong similarities. We hear from many businesses, who state their concerns and feel history is repeating itself when they remember their own experiences in Vietnam. It is not surprising therefore that we are asked to advise on which strategies to use to avoid high staff turnover rates or low quality middle management or high salary demands from relatively inexperienced candidates.

There is not a precise “one solution for all” answer” to solve these problems. However there are steps employers can take to create an environment where employees are reluctant to leave despite offers of 50% or more in base salary.

Our advice includes these steps:

    •    Complete regular salary reviews with staff. Most companies plan salary reviews yearly, our suggestion is at least every 6 months, if possible this is even better every 3 months. Many companies are offering increases of between 5% to 20% each review to keep pace with the rises in salaries elsewhere.
    •    Provide staff with a clear understanding of their career path, tailored ideally to each member of staff. Job titles are extremely important in Myanmar, often more so than responsibilities. Explain to them how they can obtain a more senior role and the timescales.
    •    Make certain that the CEO or Country Manager shares their vision and dream for the company regularly with the staff. All too often this is not done in Myanmar and so staff do not feel “involved” with the company and or consider they are “just an employee”.
    •    Provide training and development opportunities.
    •    Be aware of and considerate with the religious and family values of the country.

In our next blog we will continue this theme and focus on further methods you can introduce and adopt to retain staff and minimise staff turnover.