ARE THE MDs ABOUT TO JUMP?

shutterstock_245029771The Asia Research Staff Satisfaction Survey is our annual online survey of industry stakeholders that tracks the sentiment of staff working in the market research industry towards their employers. We also assess the dynamics of the research industry in terms of staff mobility and the factors that shape their career intentions.

The December 2014 survey was the sixth that has represented industry stakeholders from more than ten countries across Asia.

We have seen a lot of consistency in the profiles of researchers over the years, with around one in five working on fixed-term contracts and a third being expatriates. About 30% of researchers are involved in sales, which is generally consistent with previous years, allowing for a somewhat more senior profile to the sample in 2014. But again among those who do sell, the level of proactive selling is less than 30% of all selling.

The industry is seeing some changes in the way research firms are organised. For example, the proportion of people who work exclusively or mainly on quantitative projects has fallen from 75% in 2012 to 55% in 2014, suggesting that the mix of work is adjusting itself to an industry that is less about “producing data” and more about insight that requires more qualitative elements.

The working week now shows more parity between management levels. For instance, MDs have now eased off such that they work the same hours as all others in the company at around 49 hours a week for agencies versus 47 hours for those working client-side. We see the same gender split across the management levels, with slightly more junior researchers being female (54%) but female representation progressively dropping up the management levels with only 20% of MDs being female.

Sentiment towards employment

The top five most important aspects of employment in the market research industry remain the same from 2013 to 2014, and that includes “being appreciated”, the line manager, the leadership of the organisation, remuneration, and independence/ autonomy. It is therefore apparent that beyond the most obvious (e.g. remuneration), companies need to find a balance between providing vision and direction (through leadership), and allowing staff to operate independently with the appreciation and support delivered through the line manager.

The only factor that has shifted up the ranks in importance in 2014 is job security, which is perhaps a reflection of a more difficult year for the industry, particularly in Singapore, where there have been redundancies.

The starkest contrasts are seen between agency-side and client-side researchers. Those working client-side put more importance on remuneration and promotion prospects than their agency counterparts. This is consistent with 2013 and indicates that promotions might be more difficult to attain within client-side roles than within agency-side roles. Indeed, the in-depth research conducted by Asia Research in 2014 showed that agencies are perceived as offering a much clearer and somewhat more assured path for career progression than for researchers working in client organisations. A switch to a client-side role can also be motivated by the prospect of a higher salary, which suggests different priorities between these two main types of researchers, buy vardenafil australia although clients’ expectations for pay rises for 2015 are more modest than in previous years (7.3% versus 11.0% a year ago).

Among agencies, the expectations for pay rises are higher than a year ago, suggesting there might be renewed confidence in the industry or simply more demanding staff who have experienced lower increments in the past!

Overall satisfaction with employers over the last year has fallen, but this very much depends on the type of employer. Sentiment among client-side employers has remained consistent with the previous year and is better than in 2011, when 41% were less than satisfied compared to 25% today.

Asian research agencies (i.e. local or headquartered in Asia) see similar satisfaction from a year ago but a drop in those who are highly satisfied since 2011.

The biggest fall in satisfaction is seen within international research firms, with an increase in the “less than satisfied”camp in the “Big 4”agencies (Nielsen, TNS, Ipsos, and Millward Brown) from 33% to 47%, and in particular a  progressive and very conspicuous decrease in satisfaction across the board within other international research firms from 2012 to 2014. At a regional level, those working in Greater China are the least satisfied and also stand out as having the biggest fall in sentiment in the last six months. Those in Australia have the most content and “steady”researchers in the region, with few showing any major mood changes in the last six months. The contrasts between Greater China and Australia have been observed before and indicate which are the most and least sought-after destinations for researchers in Asia.

Within management levels, sentiment among middle and junior management has remained most consistent over the last two years, but there has been a noticeable fall in satisfaction among senior staff, particularly among Managing Directors.

Overall, 18% of those working agency-side indicate they will change jobs in 2015 compared to just 8% of clients. Reflecting lower satisfaction ratings among their staff, researchers are most likely to switch away for the international agencies, although the “Big 4”could expect to retain their staff better than other global agencies.

The biggest motives to switch employers are better remuneration and to move to a completely different type of research firm (or to client-side). About 10% claim they would leave the industry altogether, an intention polarised to the more junior and and senior management levels. There is still a healthy ambition for researchers to start their own businesses, which is the leading probable reason to leave one’s current employer for one in seven researchers spanning all management levels.

While in the past, the Managing Director could be relied on to stay with their firm, but with such a fall in senior manager sentiment, today one in four MDs state that they are unlikely to be with their current employer by this time next year. If these MDs follow through on their intentions, it would result in some major changes in leadership in the industry in 2015. The question is: Who?

This article was first published in the Q1, 2015 edition of the Asia Research Magazine.