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The retention and motivation of talent has indeed been a key challenge for the air travel sector, given the pandemic environment. Dominic Perret, Regional General Manager Southeast Asia, Cathay Pacific, affirms: "We need our best people and we need them all fully engaged so that when we emerge from the pandemic – which will undoubtedly happen – we do so as quickly and strongly as possible. This challenge is pretty consistent across markets in Southeast Asia. Different countries are opening up in different ways and at different speeds, but the core challenge is similar."

In this interview, he tells Priya Sunil how he and his leadership team are tackling this through reworked HR policies that are helping Cathay Pacific to prepare for the future workplace.

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Industry Insider: Dominic Perret, Regional General Manager Southeast Asia, Cathay Pacific
Sector spotlight: Air travel
Based in: Singapore

Q What's the #1 talent challenge that your sector is facing? How does it vary from market to market?

COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on aviation over the last two years. Many airlines, including Cathay Pacific, have had to make structural changes and reduce costs to ensure they make it through the pandemic. With so much uncertainty, those working in the sector naturally have questions about the future of the airline industry.

In this environment, retention and motivation are key challenges. We need our best people and we need them all fully engaged so that when we emerge from the pandemic – which will undoubtedly happen – we do so as quickly and strongly as possible.

This challenge is pretty consistent across markets in Southeast Asia. Different countries are opening up in different ways and at different speeds, but the core challenge is similar.

Overall, I have been very fortunate. We’ve asked a lot of our team and they have responded magnificently. They’ve shown their commitment, ingenuity, and can-do spirit every day.

Q Could you share some key developments that are intensifying this challenge?

Many of our teams in Southeast Asia have spent much of the last two years working remotely. Face-to-face interaction has reduced and how we engage with our people has changed. Digital connectivity has helped us overcome some of these challenges – but we’ve also all had to learn new skills and think about how to lead remote or hybrid teams effectively.

Across the world, the importance of work-life balance has also been brought to the fore as the boundaries between work and personal life become blurred. This is an area of focus and one where we have to work with our employees to get the balance right.

Q As RGM, how are you tackling this challenge, and how closely are you working with your HR lead on it?

We’ve made a number of concrete changes to the way we work and to our HR policies. To help our employees achieve a better work-life balance, and because we believe it can be good for productivity, we will be making flexible work arrangements permanent, even post-pandemic.

Employees will be able to work from home two days a week and will have some flexibility in terms of the hours they work. This new way of working is really popular with our team as it helps achieve that work-life balance. And in many countries in Southeast Asia, it gives several hours “back” to employees that they would otherwise spend commuting.

We’ve also been very focused on the health – and mental health – of our team through the pandemic. So they’ve been able to take vaccination leave after their initial shots and boosters. We’ve introduced safe access policies across all our offices in Southeast Asia. And we’ve conducted a series of mental health and wellness talks and training courses to help our team cope with the stresses we are all experiencing at the moment.

I have worked very closely with our Regional HR lead on all of these, and other, initiatives. We speak several times a day! But I also work closely with our other business unit heads – as does our Regional HR lead. They all have big teams and have an important leadership role to play.

Q If you could narrow down, what is the biggest change you've observed in this sector today, vs when you first joined over 20 years ago?

The focus on digital and therefore the need for team members with digital skillsets. The way in which customers want to buy from us and interact with us is very different from 20 years ago. The industry is getting ever more competitive, and we need to provide a more personalised and seamless experience across the entire customer journey.

Technology is the key enabler – as it is for driving efficiency and productivity gains internally as well.

Q Going forward, what should be the next big priority for HR professionals in this sector?

The market for talent is more competitive than ever – but what people want from the company they work for has also changed. Many people want meaning and purpose in their work lives, and are looking for employers who share their values. At Cathay Pacific, we are very clear on who we are and what we stand for.

One of the areas we are passionate about is diversity & inclusion in the workplace and we have a clear focus on ensuring an inclusive workplace free from bias of any kind. We have a wonderfully diverse employee base and we want to have a truly inclusive culture where everyone feels safe and valued at work.

In recent months, the Cathay Pacific Southeast Asia team has celebrated both International Women’s Day and Pink Friday with various events to recognise the contribution of women and our LGBT+ colleagues to the success of Cathay Pacific. Many of us have also made personal pledges on how we can contribute to ensuring a workplace free from any form of bias.

Our team (members) in Southeast Asia really enjoy these events – because they share the values and goals that underpin them.

Sustainability is another core belief and focus for Cathay Pacific, which our team is equally passionate about. We have many initiatives going on at a corporate level in this area and have made bold commitments – for example to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. We’ve also been driving various initiatives in Southeast Asia that our team here has got behind.

For example, we launched our ‘one-ticket, one-tree’ initiative in Thailand last year, where we planted a mangrove tree for every ticket sold. We will be launching a similar initiative in more Southeast Asian countries this year.

Having clear values and goals that are aligned with our employees', and potential employees', is important. It helps attract and retain talent and motivates the team. Ultimately we want our employees to be proud to work for Cathay Pacific because of what we do and what we stand for.

Q Finally, how are these challenges affecting your role – how are you proactively preparing for the future workplace?

We are preparing for the future workplace in a number of ways – but let me focus on three key areas.

Firstly, we will continue to be driven by our values. We are also looking for more ways to align these with our team and allow them to feel a part of, and contribute to, the achievement of our goals.

Secondly, hybrid work is here to stay – though the precise form it takes will continue to develop. This means we need to be creative and constantly re-evaluate how we engage with our employees and help them be as productive as possible.

Thirdly, in the competitive tech-driven world we live in, we need to become ever-more agile so we can drive change quicker and keep improving speed-to-market. So we are focusing on developing the right structures and especially culture to achieve this.

We are focused on all three of these areas. One thing that ties them all together is communication. While the ways we communicate may have changed, the importance of effective, two-way communication between companies and their people is more important than ever.


Image / Provided (interviewee Dominic Perret)

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