Happier, but More Mobile

The Asia Research year end staff satisfaction survey, conducted online during December 2012, tapped the sentiment of staff across a range of agencies and those working client-side. It examined the changes that can be expected in the job market for the coming year, and provides insight into the profile of research professionals working in Asia.

With samples that were fairly well matched with the previous years’ survey, the notable changes in the research industry are discussed in this lead article – now a regular feature of the first edition of Asia Research each year.


Firstly, clients are getting more experienced, now with an average of 9.5 years in research, up from only 7.8 years in 2009. With lower staff churn within client organisations, researchers working client-side are ‘maturing’.

Similarly those heading research agencies are getting older with an average age of 46 years (compared to 43 years in 2011), more experienced (over 19 years in research), and still dominated by males making up about 80% of Managing Directors.

Expatriates are a mainstay of the industry making up a third of research professionals across Asia, and they are becoming even more common in senior management positions (Associate Director and above), making up 52% of employees compared to 45% the previous year.

In contrast, those in more junior positions are getting younger, have fewer years’ experience, and those holding positions of Researcher through to Project Director / Research Manager are becoming far more localised.

There has also been a steady fall in the level of experience of middle managers (e.g. those holding positions of Associate Director) with just an average of 8.5 years’ experience in research compared to 12.9 in 2009, which some people interpret as ‘promoting people too early’.

The average number of hours worked by those in agencies has declined from 53.3 hours a week in 2011 to 51.6 in 2012. Clients work about 2 hours a week less than those working in agencies, a pattern observed through all the Asia Research surveys.

Despite less hours, agencies are having to search for their business more, with 9% of all agencies’ time now being spent on proactive business development (defined as ‘finding new clients as opposed to reacting to inquiries that come in’), up from just 6% in previous years.

\"timeThere has been improvement in overall staff satisfaction, driven mostly by greater satisfaction about promotion prospects, the quality of training provided by the employer, hours worked (as reflected in the decline in the Number of hours), job variety, and flexible working arrangements.

There is significant improvement in satisfaction among those working for agencies headquartered outside of Asia, and modest improvement among those working in the Big 4 agencies (Nielsen, TNS, Ipsos, and Millward Brown) although over the years they have tended to house the least satisfied market researchers in the industry which is still true today.

But it doesn’t mean they’re safe

Despite the rise in satisfaction in the last year, fewer researchers are sure about still being with their current employment by the end of 2013.

Asian agencies, previously with the most loyal staff, now have a less secure position with only 26% of their staff stating they are ‘very likely’ to be with their current employer by the end of the year compared to 50% a year ago.

In our article on staff satisfaction and staff mobility this time last year, Asia Research concluded that the greater propensity to stay with ones employer in 2012 was, in part, due to improved job satisfaction. Results showed a very strong correlation with staff satisfaction and likelihood to stay with the employer. That correlation still exists today, but has weakened.

\"leavingWe also highlighted that greater propensity to stay with ones employer in 2012 could reflect a more cautious sentiment about changing jobs as economic conditions became more uncertain.  A year on, major economies have generally worsened and these effects are being felt in Asia.  However, job changing is very much a waiting game – the approach of ‘wait and see’ in 2012 has now run its course, and despite uncertain times going into 2013 more staff are likely to review their employment options with 22% intending to leave their current employer, up from 16% a year ago.

What are the important elements of employment?

At least when it comes to ‘stated importance’, remuneration does rank high. A new element to this year’s staff satisfaction survey was to assess staff expectations in terms of their 2013 salary increment. The average expectation is a 10% rise in basic salary, higher among more junior positions (c. 13%) declining to 9% among senior management.

The widest variation in salary increase expectations is seen at a country level with the highest in Indonesia (14.9%), India (14.8%), and China (13.3%), and lowest in Australia (5.8%).

But as with previous year’s surveys, the relationship the employee has with their company ranks equally high – ‘being appreciated’ still ranks number one in importance and relationship with the immediate line manager also ranks high. Of greater importance to employees this year are promotion prospects (also suggesting higher likelihood of job changing) and the strength of leadership of their organisation.


In tandem with the staff satisfaction survey, the ‘Big 4’ agencies in Asia (Nielsen, TNS, Ipsos, and Millward Brown) were rated on a range of employment benefits and employer image attributes.

At a total market level, i.e. across all research professionals surveyed, Nielsen tended to be rated higher perhaps just through familiarity with the organisation. Millward Brown was slightly ahead in the more important attributes of ‘being fair in their dealings with staff’ and ‘understanding staff needs’, although it is notable that very few researchers rated any of these agencies on these attributes, nor on ‘commitment to fair work-life balance’.

As with previous years’ surveys, to create a more level playing field the results were analysed by those either currently working for these companies or who have worked for them in the past. Again lower ratings were given to these companies in the more important attributes of ‘being fair’ and ‘understanding staff needs’ although Ipsos and Millward Brown do better than their peers.


The most notable changes in the last year is a very significant decline in employer image for TNS, performing worst or joint worst on most employment attributes with major decline in image over the last year. This has also impacted their recruitment prospects with only 14% of research professionals likely to consider them among the Big 4 Agencies (either as first or second choice) compared to 25% for Nielsen, 23% for Ipsos, and 20% for Millward Brown.

In contrast, Ipsos (previously burdened with the legacy of Synovate – usually with the worst employment image from these surveys) has now shone through, taking the lead on remuneration, leadership, and having ‘varied and interesting projects’. While Millward Brown still retains quite a strong employer image carried over from the previous year, Ipsos’ breakthrough wins them the 2012 Asia Research Big 4 Employer of the Year Award.