Entrepreneur Views: Gen Y Work Life Balance

They say Gen Y value work life balance. So it may be a challenge for employers where work life balance is not possible due to the nature of the business. But the reality is, not ALL Gen Y talent put work life balance as a priority, and there are many quality talent out there that is willing to put in the hours to get the work done, it just needs to be the right kind of work, and in the right kind of culture or environment.

One industry in particular, does not allow for much work life balance. And that’s the events business. If you’ve ever heard any stories about the people who run events, you will know that work hours are long, and stress levels are high.

Yet for Jwan Heah, this has been a challenge he’s faced and overcome across the many years he’s been in the events business. Jwan is the Group CEO of Pulse Group, an events company spanning across Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, and has previously been involved in organising some large scale events in the region.

If you’ve ever heard any stories about the people who run events, you will know that work hours are long, and stress levels are high.

Jwan has managed to hire and manage some of the most motivated Gen Y talent in the industry, so when I was looking for ideas on what makes Gen Y work hard and put in the hours, Jwan was kind enough to share some of his thoughts with me.

D: What are your views about work life balance?

JH: You spend the bulk of your time each day at work plus the the after hour work that you put in equates to a huge part of your life is work. If you’re spending almost all your life with/on work, then blur the lines a little so that you don’t have to balance work and life. Every morning you wake up and you’re excited cause you know its going to be a fun day, you head out to the office and hang out with a bunch of like-minded awesome people to do something you enjoy, its something you look forward to and then it doesn’t become work anymore. When you find joy in what you and who you do it with, its not work anymore.

D: When you interview Gen Y candidates, what techniques (or interview questions) do you use to distinguish those that are willing to put in the hours, from those who won’t?

Manage Expectations During the Interview

JH: During the interview, we start by giving an explanation into what we do and we’re very direct and open with how bad the situation is. Extremely long working hours, ‘show goes on no matter what attitude’ that includes occasionally the need to perform manual labor work, smile while receiving stress induced profanities, meeting crazy deadlines, dealing with all manner of people, changing plans within couple of hours notice, driving solo to ends of Malaysia or hop on a plane etc. Basically to get stuff done or die trying.

Ask questions about their personality

JH: Questions during interview focus more on personal attributes rather than skillsets. What makes you happy? If you are given RM1,000 to plan an internal company event what would you do and why?

Give them space to be sure of their decision

JH: Finally we tell them to go home and think about it and come back to us in 48 hours if they still want to pursue a life here in PULSE ASIA. At the end we always advise anyone wanting to join us that its their life and Pulse Asia is merely a platform to help you achieve your goals and personal vision, if the culture and environment gives you the added ability to do that, then join us.

jwan team - gen y work life balance

D: If your staff feel burned out from hard work, how do you try to balance that, to ensure that you retain them, and that they remain committed to their work?

J: We maintain a family like culture and a fun filled environment, and we’ve made spreading happiness and positivity a mantra. Everyone is aware of the company’s performance at all times including financials & profitability, we set targets and celebrate each mini achievement or win, and each individual’s contribution is publicly acknowledged and announced during our daily huddles and emphasised during our ‘Gratitude Fridays’. Although we do practice having a leave form, we are not tracking the number of leaves a PulsElite takes and half day off to sort out personal errands is a common practice. As long as the work is done, we allow the flexibility. Its the culture that we’ve built (building more like it) that keeps everyone together and committed to their work.

D: How do you compete with other employers who can offer work/life balance to their employees?

JH: We don’t compete. We’ve created (constant fine tuning) our culture and we’re continuously evolving to ensure we stay relevant in our industry. We’re transparent in terms of our expectations from the start and do our best to understand employees expectations. Part-timers, friends, vendors and clients constantly get a glimpse at how we live our lives as PulsElites and that creates good word of mouth for us. As an organization we do all that we can within our capacity and financial limits to provide an environment that is safe, fun and caters for as a wide a spectrum of personalities… as mentioned in the earlier questions, in the end its up to the job seeker to decide which organization suits his/her desires, values and goals.

We don’t compete. We’ve created our culture and we’re continuously evolving. In the end it’s up to the jobseeker to decide which organization suits his/her desires values and goals.

D: What do you think are some of things employers can offer that Gen Y candidates will find more important than work/life balance?


  1. Exorbitant amounts of money?? (hahaha)
  2. Clearly articulated and visible Vision, Mission, and Values statement. So you attract the right people who share those dreams and make sure its repeated day in day out.
  3. Engagement. Break the boundaries of the traditional hierarchical structure and engage across all levels and departments. e.g CEO spending time with the janitor to get his/her feedback and acting on those feedbacks, upper management walking the floor daily. This probably has a much bigger impact than on work life balance. In the end, people want to know that they matter.
  4. Involve everyone who will be affected by a decision in the decision making process.
  5. Opportunities for learning and personal growth and development
  6. Champion a social cause. Provide the resources and time for people to spearhead community enrichment programmes or charity causes.
  7. Drivers and/or UBER. Cause driving to the office and to meetings stuck in traffic is emotionally and physiologically taxing. Coupled with trying to find parking for an important presentation a the clients office can cause serious damage to the heart and mind! (we are beta testing the use of UBER for work at the moment)

Learning from the Best – Alliance Bank Bizsmart SME Challenge

So we finished in the Top 20 of Alliance Bank Bizsmart Academy SME Challenge for 2015. After two months of training and networking, the question I get asked frequently is – What did I learn, and was it worth it?

I don’t really want to write too much about what I learned from training. Obviously I learned a lot. When I first found out that training was compulsory, I thought about how busy I was going to be trying to manage the business at the same time, but I made the decision to go into every session with an open and receptive mind. And I came out of each training session learning new ideas that I wanted to apply to the business, or how we managed the team, and I felt lucky that we were selected.

I want to write about what I learned from some of the judges on the panel.

Continue reading →

Speaking About Culture to Malaysian CEOs


It was an interesting experience for me to speak about work culture to a group of CEOs in Malaysia. When I was first invited to do it, I was quite skeptical about how receptive this topic was going to be. After all, these are very experienced business people who have successfully built multi-million dollar businesses without having much thought about culture. Why would they even care?

To my surprise, they really did. These were very forward looking people who wanted to know where the wind was blowing, incredibly dynamic people who would want to hear every idea, realising that resistance to change and evolve according to what the world has become, will have a negative effect on their companies.

The one thing some of these CEOs could agree on, was that culture increasingly mattered to a lot of the younger jobseekers, and therefore this could no longer be ignored. In fact, while the need to change and start caring about culture may not be immediately obvious, by the time you realise you need to do something about it, it’s probably already too late. Because the culture of your organisation is made up of the people you hire, and how they think, and any change is extremely difficult and time consuming.

A special call out to two companies that really stood out for me during this talk – Feruni and PosAd.

Feruni is a ceramic tiling business, and was probably one of the last businesses I would imagine to start caring about culture. Yet the senior management team took a trip to attend a course in Zappos in Las Vegas, to learn about what culture means to them, and they have since been passionately implementing a lot of these ideas back here in Malaysia (separate blog post coming soon!)

PosAd is a diversified advertising business that recently embarked on a culture change initiative, as they hired external consultants to help them make their workplace a better environment to be in.

I hope more companies in Malaysia will look at these companies as amazing examples that caring about culture is important not just to attract talent, but to succeed as a business, before it’s too late.

Don’t believe work culture is important? This story might change your mind.

Here’s one of the most viewed TED talks from Jay Wilkinson, CEO of Firespring, a company that you may never have heard of before in Malaysia, but it’s also a company that was included in Inc magazine’s top 50 small company workplaces in America.

He shares his story from the way he first got it wrong, and how he eventually changed to make sure he got it right.

I hope every entrepreneur embraces the importance of having a good work culture. Remember that you will never be able to outspend huge corporate companies with big marketing budgets. So work culture is also how your business is going to attract the best talent, and ultimately succeed.

You have to hear this story.

Is social media really networking?

Networkers and recruiters pay attention, because this really applies to you. Social media is a good networking TOOL, but most people confuse it as being networking itself. There are many social media platforms right now, including Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter. In fact, the other day I got an email from Linkedin asking me to download their “Connected App” because apparently using this I can “network without the work”. Since when did clicking a few buttons and sending a few messages become networking?

Yet that is what a lot of confused people are doing out there right now. They are adding people on these social media platforms, sending them a couple of messages, and in their minds, they are busy NETWORKING. No, not really.

Here’s a little TEDx talk by Michael Goldberg about the Rediscovering Personal Networking, which I believe pretty much sums up what people forget as REAL networking.

Here’s a summary of some of the most important ideas from the talk:

1) Your “friends” on social media are not your real friends

He joked (maybe not a joke) that if you really wanted to know who your real friends are, send them all of the a message telling them that you need help moving to a new house. Only those who respond are your real friends. Everyone else should be “unfriended”.

2) Real relationships are built when networking is about them, not about you

He defined networking as “a proactive approach to meet people to learn with the prospect of helping them”. Not to sell your stuff, or pitch your ideas.

3) It’s okay to network only with people you actually like

Goldberg says that he only likes about a third of the people he meets, and he spends most of his time networking with them.

4) Strategic networking is about technique

Goldberg offers a technique that he summarises as PEEC (Profession, Expertise, Environment, Call to Action). By building a PEEC statement with a clear call to action, you are always prepared when doing strategic networking.



How to choose the right company culture for you

IMG_1970Some people under estimate the importance of choosing the right company culture for you. Yet I’ve seen many very bright individuals “not fitting in”, ultimately resulting in their careers made stagnant, or worse still, damaged and short-lived.

John Kotter (best selling author) defined culture in his book Leading Change as “….norm of behaviours and shared values among a group of people.” So even with all the right skills, if your values and behaviours do not fit in with the majority of the people in a company, you are probably going to have a difficult time progressing within the organisation.

So what should you be looking out for when assessing a company’s culture?

According to Robert Quinn and Kim Cameron at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, there are four types of organizational culture: Clan, Adhocracy, Market, and Hierarchy.

1) Clan oriented cultures are family-like, with a focus on mentoring, nurturing, and “doing things together.”
2) Adhocracy oriented cultures are dynamic and entrepreneurial, with a focus on risk-taking, innovation, and “doing things first.”
3) Market oriented cultures are results oriented, with a focus on competition, achievement, and “getting the job done.”
4) Hierarchy oriented cultures are structured and controlled, with a focus on efficiency, stability and “doing things right.”

What culture is your organisation, and which one would you prefer to be in?

How to retain your best talent, and attract more

Very often, smaller companies with limited resources dedicate most of the their efforts at core business activities (i.e. the money generating stuff), and forget to look after their employees who are making this happen.

Training and development of employees is sometimes seen as a luxury, and perhaps something companies will start doing when they become MORE successful.

But that concept is wrong, especially if you want to be a modern progressive company that attracts and retains their best people. In fact, to be MORE successful, you really need to develop your people.

One advantage big corporations have over smaller ones is that employees believe that if they join a big corporation, they will leave it better than when they started. Whether it’s because that good name on their CV can increase their chances of an even better job in future, or maybe because the companies invest in developing people so their value increases as they stay with the company.

So even if you are struggling to attract the best people now, invest in developing them, make them better, so you will have competitive workforce. And employees will tell other people how fulfilling it is working at your company, and over time, you will have a brand name yourself.

Here’s something I read recently (can’t remember the source!):

CFO asked CEO : What happens if we invest in developing people & they leave us?

CEO : What happens if we don’t & they stay ?

Have a good week ahead guys!

Why hiring the “perfect candidate” is a bad idea

If you have ever done recruitment or even applied to a job, you’ve seen the job specification. This little document that basically lists all the ideal qualities of the “perfect candidate”. This perfect candidate will already have all the skills and experience you need to hit the ground running. Basically someone who has all the experience performing the role you need them to do. No training required, no need to figure out if they can or cannot do certain things. They’ve done the exact same role before.

Hiring this “perfect candidate” is actually a very bad idea.

A recent worldwide study by Gallup shows that only 12% of employees in Southeast Asia are engaged at work. Only 12%. That’s quite an alarming number.

If you look at the top reasons for employees to get demotivated, two of them are lack of progression and boredom.

And that’s precisely what that perfect hire is going to feel coming into the job. You see, when a candidate takes up a job that he or she can already do, with little progression, then the reason is likely to be purely money. And that is a very short term reason.

However, if you hire what I call the “80% candidate”, this person can do many of the things required, but not everything. Or they have a strong foundation to perform the new role but perhaps have not actually performed the role before. THIS candidate is the one that’s going to come into the role fully charged and motivated to learn. Why? Because it’s a progression for them. It’s the next step, its career development.

So if you ever come across a situation where the “perfect candidate” is sitting in front of you, ask yourself “Will this person be motivated to perform this role?”.

Hiring by purely looking at skills may be a good short term answer, but to build high performing teams, it’s also about attitudes, motivation and long term potential.

An interesting view on what leadership is really about

I came across this interesting short video about how to start a movement by Derek Sivers. The video shows us how leadership is all about taking risks, being the first, and to be courageous even though you may be ridiculed.

But the coolest thing about the video, is that it explains the role of the follower.

Here’s the key message:

1)   Your first followers transform you from a crazy person into a leader

2)   It’s them, not the leader, that suddenly make it easy for others to follow, because its now less risky

3)   Treat your first followers as equals and embrace them

Remember, leadership is about having people who will follow you. If you know someone who is currently in a senior role in an organization, and their people listen to them because they have to, not because they want to, then they are just an authority figure. They are a boss, but not a leader.

The role of your followers should never be underestimated in leadership.