Little Emperors in the Workplace

Little Emperors in the Workplace
Jun 03, 2009 By Paul Bacon , eChinacities.com

Special Topic: Finding and Keeping Jobs in China

I actually first began to contemplate the one child policy and its impact upon China's employment market way back in 2007. At that time, China was in the middle of its 'war for talent' with turnover in many industries topping 20% and companies going to greater and greater lengths to steal talent from under the noses of their competitors. And, the general consensus was that 'one child' was having a negative impact on employee recruitment and retention.

chinese children
Photo: Google

The logic behind this type of thinking went something like this: Many people here in China - particularly older generations - argued that the introduction of the controversial policy in 1979 has had a negative impact on the psychology of China's youth. They complained that the concept of 'one mouth, six pockets' (Which means one child supported by two parents and four grandparents) was creating a generation of spoiled, self-obsessed youngsters who were used to getting their own way all the time - the Little Emperors as they have become known. This attitude was showcased in a report by China Daily, with one older Chinese citizen commenting, “This generation is weaker in practical skills, has less sense of responsibility and is lazier.”

One example of the Little Emperors’ spoiled self absorbed nature can be seen in the country’s rising divorce rate. A popular theory about this is that many only children struggle to adapt to married life as they are so used to being the center of their own universe that they are unable to fully accommodate another person and are, therefore, unable to make the concessions required for married life. Some recent studies seem to give this theory some credence. A 2008 survey by the Civil Affairs Department revealed that the divorce rate in China has been sky-rocketing over the past decade as the one-child generation reaches maturity. It has now reached 1.4 million couples per year, an increase of 18.2% from 2006. A similar 2006 survey, conducted in Liaoning, found that the divorce rate amongst two only children was close to 25%.

It was not just at home that the Little Emperors were having trouble making compromises. In the workplace too, there was a healthy dose of discord. Children of the one child era first began to enter the job market in the early to mid 2000s, coinciding with the explosion of employee turnover and some of the fiercest battles in the war for talent. According to Hewitt Associates, in 2001 turnover across China was 8.3%. By 2003 that number was up to 11%, and, by 2006, it was over 16%. If you were to ask many managers and company directors, the arrival of the one-child generation and the almost simultaneous explosion in turnover was no coincidence. Unaccustomed to being told 'no', the Little Emperors behaved the same way in the workplace as they did at home. Just as they would demand toys and pocket money from their family, they would demand greater benefits and higher salaries from their employers. And, what would happen if they were told 'no'? At home it would likely result in a temper tantrum, whilst at work they would often choose to find a company that would say 'yes'.

Obviously, at the time, escalating turnover was doing the Chinese job-market no good whatsoever, and the Little Emperors needed to be brought under control. However, even at the time, I thought this to be a rather simplified view of the situation. A generation defined as 'greedy' and averse to rejection might well promote disharmony, but it could also act as a driving force behind the world's fastest growing economy. A refusal to settle for second best and the determination to hold out for exactly what they want made the Emperors a key factor in the immense growth China enjoyed before the onset of the financial crisis.

During prosperous times, the impact of the one-child policy centered solely on the psychological implications of the children it produced. Now, in leaner times, we need to consider how will it affect the changing complexion of the Chinese job-market? Obviously, the one-child policy is designed to limit population. And, it certainly has been effective. Reports suggest that were it not for one-child, China’s population would be touching the 2 billion mark. According to Zhang Weiqing, the Minister in charge of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, said, “Because China has worked hard over the last 30 years, we have 400 million fewer people.” When we consider the following statistics, this population reduction is quite possibly a major benefit for China (a) This year 7 million students will graduate university and enter a job-market that has no room for them and will take the number of unemployed university graduates past the 3 million mark, and (b) In Guangdong, 60,000 factories have closed their doors, causing unemployment amongst migrant laborers to rise to a shocking 24million, according to the British newspaper, The Guardian. Imagine this situation with millions more workers factored in, it would prove genuinely frightening.

And, how will the attitudes of the Little Emperors change in financially bleaker times? The first thing to alter will be their desire to jump ship. With viable alternatives limited, they will be forced to learn how to compromise in the workplace. This may have little impact on the divorce rate, but it is likely to ensure turnover will be much lower this year than last year.

Special Topic: Finding and Keeping Jobs in China

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Fatai2356
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According to Zhang Weiqing, the Minister in charge of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, said, “Because China has worked hard over the last 30 years, we have 400 million fewer people.” When we consider the following statistics, this population reduction is quite possibly a major benefit for China (a) This year 7 million students will graduate university and enter a job-market that has no room for them and will take the number of unemployed university

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