Léa Klein: 98% Southeast Asians Want Meaning At Work, Western vs. SE Asia On Sustainability & Economic Stability For Family - E414

· Podcast Episodes English,Southeast Asia,Women,sustainability


“People are way more conscious and aware of the social and environmental conditions of our world. The thinking is also, can I find more meaning in what I do? That's something very important when people are no longer working just to work and earn a salary. They work because they have a goal in life. They want to succeed. Succeeding can be interpreted in different ways. It can be about salary. It can be about contributing to an organization's mission. It can be a different level, but it's clear that people are no longer working just for working.” - Léa Klein

“We were able to learn from the participants that there’s a strong expectation from companies in terms of advocating for diversity and inclusivity, not just externally but also internally, to bridge the inequality gaps. It can be about gender or race so that more people can have access to leadership positions, or contribute to the organization's mission. It’s also related to building a work culture that allows more people to grow, and that’s more empathic. If we’re able to create a safe space inside the company, it’ll be easier because it would be part of the culture to also achieve sustainability targets because the mindset of the workforce would be way more driven by this objective.” - Léa Klein

“When we talk about green and impact-driven jobs, there’s a stigma that you won't earn money, and that it's something that you do when you're young and you don't have any pressure, but when you look at the stats, the sector is growing so much that there are 12 million people who work for NGOs in Southeast Asia. They expect to have 13 million green jobs by 2050. There’s so much investment going on right now in climate tech and in renewable energy. You can make a good living. The question is more about how we normalize solutions, and also for people to see that you can earn comfortably, and contribute to making the world a better place. So you don't have to choose one over the other. You can bridge both, and that's something that most people are not aware of.” - Léa Klein

Lea Klein, Asia CEO of Makesense, and Jeremy Au talked about three main themes:

1. 98% Southeast Asians Want Meaning At Work: Léa and Jeremy highlighted that regional workers' desire for purpose contrasts with the dissatisfaction many feel with the level of meaning in their current roles. They discussed how companies could bridge this gap between desire and reality by enhancing mission-driven work and integrating Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) principles, and learning opportunities into their cultures.

2. Western vs. SE Asia On Sustainability: Léa pointed out significant regional variations in how Southeast Asians and Westerners define meaningful work. She discussed how the West often emphasizes environmental sustainability, whereas Southeast Asians intertwine meaningful work with economic and social stability. Southeast Asia's rapid economic growth and thus emerging middle class has led to a dual focus on personal and community advancement, over environmental sustainability.

3. Economic Stability For Family: Léa and Jeremy underscored that for many people in Southeast Asia, providing for their family is the number 1 primary concern that influences their career choices. This concern for family well-being drives many towards higher-paying careers, often trading away personal fulfillment and social impact.

Jeremy and Léa also talked about how the economy impacts entrepreneurial risk-taking, job creation in the green economy, and companies advocating for gender equality and inclusive work environments.

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(01:44) Jeremy Au:

Hey, Léa, really excited to have you in the show. You're here to discuss the quest for meaning at work. Wow. What big words. And more importantly, you did this report on Southeast Asia. So excited to have you share your insights and have a debate about what that actually means. Léa, could you please introduce yourself?

(01:58) Léa Klein:

Yeah, sure. So I'm Léa. I'm the Asia head of Makesens and Jobs That Make Sense. So, at Makesense, our mission is really to empower citizens so they can contribute to making our world more sustainable and inclusive. And until recently, like two years ago, we're only focusing on incubating social and green entrepreneurs and facilitating civic engagement programs. Four years ago, we launched Jobs That Make Sense to help people find jobs in the green and social economy. We started first in France, and now we brought the platform to Southeast Asia since January and we're super excited about this development.

(02:36) Jeremy Au:

Amazing. So why did you decide to commission this report to survey, across Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand?

(02:44) Léa Klein:

Yeah, so we first did this study in France. And so it happened in 2022 in the middle of the pandemic and we could see that a lot of people started questioning what the hell am I doing with my life? And they were like, starting to wonder okay, how can I find a bigger purpose in my job? And we received amazing responses and we saw that it was a real quest. And if you look in Southeast Asia, since the pandemic actually, is the sustainability sector has really boomed over the last year. You just look in Singapore, for instance the the demand for ESG roles has increased by over like almost 300%.

So we saw that there’s a lot of interest that constantly people were reaching out to me about finding a job that’s more aligned with my values, but I don't know how to do it and such. So like, okay, is it something that is just marginalized? Or is it really that it's a real quest as well for Southeast Asia? And compared to the West, how do people define it? Because we can't just like copy-paste the definition from Europe to US or what? But what does it mean here in the region? So that's why we partnered with Manpower, and we really wanted to have a sense of how people approach it, what is important to them, and are they actually looking for greater meaning, and how it can also nurture company strategy, not only about sustainability, but also in terms of retention of talents and attracting more talents to join the organization. So that was really like the whole point when we launched this a few months ago.

(04:11) Jeremy Au:

Great. And so is the finding that Asians care less about purpose than Westerners or French people?

(04:17) Léa Klein:

No, absolutely not. No, no, not at all. Actually we're quite amazed in the sense of, as you saw in the report, like 98% of people actually think that finding meaning in their work is important to them. And actually even think that is something that is very crucial to them. So we see that is really something that people think about but the definition then from one person or from one country to another can vary. So like when we talk about meaningful work in general in Southeast Asia, it can be understood at two levels. One level is about like more personal and professional fulfillment in terms of advancing the career growth, in terms of contributing to the organization mission, in terms of work-life balance. That's something we see a lot since the pandemic. And people are really looking to have like also more flexible time hours, or like this remote set up type of work. And then there's another thing that is more about a sense of duty towards their community, towards the country, the people and social altruism in general.

And that's where you see also like a lot of expectation from their companies, but also of themselves in terms of contributing to the social and environmental progress of their countries. So definitely we see a strong interest, but then we say difference with Europe is more about it's an inner and an external work as well for them. And everything is very much related in that sense.

(05:37) Jeremy Au:

Could you share more about the differences? I can believe that as a human animal, the human animals, the same in Europe and Asia, we want food, we want security. We want shelter. We want to provide for our family. And then of course we want some level of meaning at work, but what were some of the differences that you saw?

(05:52) Léa Klein:

So the differences that we saw were like, for instance, when you look at the definition in France it would have been very related to accelerating the ecological and social transition of the country and in terms of achieving more radically the sustainability targets, and even not wanting to work in specific sectors. Here, for instance, the majority of people think that any type of jobs and any type of companies can have a positive impact on society, but they still have like high expectation from their companies in terms of being genuine and dedicated to their sustainability targets. But the other thing that was really important is really the working condition and the context of personal fulfillment.

And for instance, when we interviewed some people and try to understand what they mean by this, we receive stories of for instance, people in Indonesia or in the Philippine explaining us that many of them are the first generation of middle class or even upper class and their parents didn't have the same level of opportunities as them and they had to work very hard to achieve where they are today and to allow also their friends and their kids to go to university or have a corporate job.

So the question also of improving and ensuring the economic conditions of their family members is something that is also very important to them. And this is why you can't differentiate what they are bringing at home and how they make sure that their family lives in good condition and at the same time improving the general well being of their broader community or their country in general. So it's really like they are really at the crossroad of this and they can't just focus on social impact if they know that, for instance their family are not well taken care of.

(07:37) Jeremy Au:

So are you saying that Asians care about family and Westerners care about the planet?

(07:41) Léa Klein:

No, I will not say this. I will more say that southeast Asia went through such a rapid growth over the last years. So like the, this emergence of a large middle class has been happening like again, across the last 20, 30 years, where for instance, in Europe, it has been happening over a longer time. So obviously, it changed also like in terms of behaviors and opportunities of action and there have been a certain level of privilege or sort of like some social services are taken care of a different level already, could be about the state, about the companies. So people are just like, obviously want to make sure that everybody is well taken care of.

(08:20) Jeremy Au:

Yeah. What's interesting because you said that 98% of Southeast Asians feel that meaning at work is important to them. And more than half, 53% of them are planning to take action to achieve it. These are your numbers. So how are folks trying to take action to achieve it? Is it like talk to your boss and say, Hey boss, I need more purpose in my life? Or do they do it outside work? Or should they quit their job? How does that work?

(08:42) Léa Klein: So it was super interesting because we were looking at the question of career transition also through this report. So how do people look at this question? Do they even consider it or not? And we are very surprised to see that the large majority of people are really considering a career transition, but can be it is being approached very differently again, from one country to another.

For instance the different categories that we were looking at and we were discussing with our participants is one, do you want a change of industries? That's what you consider career transition. Do you want to change of roles, like literally like changing of careers? Another one is, is just about changing of roles inside your company. And the last point was more about going to more an alternative path, like being an entrepreneur or starting a freelancing or a content creation career. So the majority of people said that, yes, they are interested or 53% said yes, they are interested about a career transition. And then when we looked into the responses of people who already did it, that's where you could see the disparity from one country to another.

For instance, in Thailand more than 50% of people, when they look at a career transition, or at least for those who did it, they went in more like those alternative paths. So many of them, for instance, started their own businesses. Where if you look at Singapore people in Singapore are more looking at changing of literally of jobs and professions. And that's also due to different contexts from one country to another and for instance, we could see that Vietnam and Thailand have very similar trends where Malaysia and Singapore have very similar trends as well. So that's also something that was quite interesting for us to observe.

(10:19) Jeremy Au:

Fascinating. You started talking a little bit about differences between countries, right? So Singapore, finds another job. Thailand is setting up a new business. What are the differences do you see across the different countries? Because, you covered as well, the other four Southeast Asian countries like Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam as well.

(10:38) Léa Klein:

For instance, this difference between, let's say, Thailand and Singapore from the conversation that we were having, and even thing that we, we observed for the past years, if it makes sense, is Singapore, for instance, has a very strong economic growth. It's such a hub also in Southeast Asia and even the cost of living in Singapore is higher compared to Thailand, for instance. So people see a higher risk of being an entrepreneur because you need to ensure that you can cover your cost of living, where in countries like Thailand, entrepreneurship is something that has been, if I can say, part of the DNA of people, like at first it was entrepreneurship to survive and now it's entrepreneurship to be independent and have your own work schedule. And the risk also is less important because again, the cost of living is lower. So that's a type of context that we've observed, what is the interpretation that we are making of it.

And it also shows that, for instance, in Thailand, many people that we're talking with, they are starting online activities like a small shop or like a sustainable fashion brand on social media. And it was allowing them to also have a more flexible lifestyle and be more present with their families. And that was something that was very easy for them to do because a lot of the economy or the commerce happen also very much on social media. So that's a very normal behavior. And it just encouraged more people to go also in this direction.

(11:59) Jeremy Au:

So you're saying that a lot of people are trying to find meaning at work. I'm just kind of curious. Do you think meaning is found at work or we should just give up on work and just find meaning outside work? Church or your spiritual institution of choice or your family or your hobbies or, some charitable cause.

(12:16) Léa Klein:

Meaning can be found everywhere. This study focused mostly on the workspace. There are already a lot of conversation about the type of meaning that you're looking for in your community, at a religion, a religious level, or in terms of lifestyle that you're living but something that we really see, for instance, you see that more and more organization and companies are investing in sustainability. We talk a lot about the Gen Z's who don't want to take any kind of jobs and they're looking for something where they can have a higher impact. So it's actually something that people are thinking about over the last few people are way more conscious and aware of the social and environmental conditions of our world.

(12:58) Léa Klein:

Social media is everywhere. So we can't ignore this. And we spend 90% of our life with our colleagues at work. So obviously the thinking is also, can I find more meaning in what I do? But how also can my job contribute more to my personal fulfillment? And that's something is very important when no people are no longer working just to work and earn a salary. They work because they have also a goal in life. They want to succeed. Succeeding can be interpreted in different ways. It can be about salary. It can be about contributing to an organization mission. It can be about saving a forest in Malaysia, you see what I mean? It can be very, and just a different level, but it's clear that people are no longer working just for working.

(13:41) Jeremy Au:

And what's interesting is that, there's this transformation of the work because historically, like you said, Asia is growing. Work is just work. And now people are trying to find meaning at work, which is kind of an interesting dynamic. And you mentioned, for example, wanting to see companies have ESG goals or mission and so forth. Could you share more about what companies should be doing or not be doing?

(14:01) Léa Klein:

Yeah. So I don't know if I can give you a simple answer of what companies should be doing and what should not be doing, but at least what we see from the survey, there is a clear expectation that companies should act more generously and really take the lead on their sustainability initiative. So today, if you look at all large corporations, most of them have clear sustainability or ecological, or social targets. So that's a strong expectation. How do they make sure that generally, they are making sure that it's something that is not marginalized from the rest of the business, but it's really integrated into business. That's one thing.

(14:35) Léa Klein:

So second thing that we were able to learn from the participants is that there is also a strong expectation from companies in terms of advocating for diversity and inclusivity, not just externally but also internally, to bridge the inequality gaps. It can be between gender. It can be about race, so that more people can have access to, for instance, leadership position or contribute to the organization mission. And it's very much also related in terms of um, building a work culture that allows more people to grow that is also more empathic and if inside the companies were able to create already this safe space then it would be way easier because it would be part of the culture to also achieve those sustainability targets because the mindset of the workforce or like the people inside the company would be way more driven also by this objective.

And other things that we looked at is many people were sharing that through their education or even today while they're working, they are not exposed enough to sustainability or like socially driven roles or like the type of career that exists in that space. And there's also an expectation that they can benefit from learning programs. They can discover all like those type of jobs that are being created. Right now, there are so many jobs being created, for instance, in Singapore. Singapore is looking at creating 50,000 green jobs by 2030. It's part of the green plan of Singapore, but most people have no idea what are those jobs and they don't even know. Even when those jobs exist in, the companies are not aware of it. So it's really a question about exposure. Meanwhile, also making sure that they can really improve their work condition and have again, it's always going to the question of personal life balance as well. So I can never separate both because the responses were always turning around this.

(16:24) Jeremy Au:

A critic might say that, Hey, that's true. Like all things being equal, it'd be better to have those things, right? More meaning, more passion, more purpose, but salary and stability financially is number one. And , even in your survey you wrote here that nearly half the respondents identified salary and financial as their top priority when looking for a new job. That's all good and well, but if this job pays 20% higher, then I'll pick the job that makes more money. How do you react or respond to that kind of a criticism?

(16:51) Léa Klein:

No, and I don't think actually it's a criticism. It's a reality. We live in a world where you need money to live, except if tomorrow we live in a society where money is not driving our decision. I will be fine, but it's not the case today. So it's a reality and we can't ignore this. But when we were talking with participants, the question was not about material wealth, like I want to drive the next beautiful car or I want to buy this new fancy bags or what. It was more about, I want again to ensure that my family, lives in good condition. So for instance, we were chatting with some people and they were telling me like, I'm the first one of my family who went to university and now I have a corporate job. Now it's expected, and I want also to contribute, so for me to pay for the university of my little brother, so it's also this is having this role of everybody from my family can also economically grow. This is why the question of salary is way more complex than what we think. Most time is very simplified to, oh, people just want to become rich. It's not actually like what we observed in our context.

(17:55) Léa Klein:

And another thing that is quite interesting is, for instance, when we talk about green and impact-driven jobs, there is a stigma that you won't earn any money. And it's something that you do when you're young and you don't have any pressure, but actually, when you look at the stats, the sector is growing so much that 12 million people, for instance, who work for NGOs in Southeast Asia. They expected to have 13 million green jobs by 2050. And, There is so much investment going right now in climate tech, in renewable energy, etc. And you can actually make a good living. And the question is more, how do we normalize those solutions? And also for people to see that you can actually earn comfortably, and you can contribute to make the world a better place. So you don't have to choose one another than another, you can actually bridge both. And that's something that most people are not aware of today.

(18:48) Jeremy Au:

What's interesting is that, you did survey both men and women as well. Were there any differences between the two genders?

(18:55) Léa Klein:

So in this survey 60% of the respondents are women. So it's quite evolving in this case. The difference that we saw mostly was more like, so at one point we asked them like, what stopped you today from finding more purpose in your work? And many women will answer more than men the personal responsibility that they have, to achieve specific career goals they have. So it's more like, still this reality where women obviously are still have more family responsibilities than men. So that's more in that sense, but generally speaking, across the spectrum, in terms of the quest for meaning being interested in finding roles that are more aligned with their values, it was very similar.

(19:40) Jeremy Au:

So earlier you were saying that Asians cares less about environment than Westerners, and you mentioned it because of the progression and the pyramid of responsibilities. Could you share a little bit more about, for your poll, how people are finding what the responsibilities that companies should be undertaking?

(19:54) Léa Klein:

Yeah. So maybe let me clarify. I don't mean to say that Asian don't care about the environment. They care about it very much. I lived in the Philippines for many years and I can tell you that people are very aware of climate change and they go through natural disasters constantly every year. So people are very conscious and aware of it. That being said when you look at what people care more about, like if they have to choose between like social responsibility and environmental responsibility, their hearts always go more towards social impact. And it's simply because it's a question about how do we ensure that the people really benefit from the sustainability transition as well?

So how do you make sure that it's a just and fair transition? So when we say we want to ban plastic waste, it's great. But today, for instance, most people who use a single use plastic are low income communities. So if we ban those plastics tomorrow these communities won't be able to access their basic products like soap, shampoo, et cetera. So you need to rethink the whole redistribution system to make sure that the environmental impact they're trying to achieve doesn't put people into difficulty. And that's really something that is predominant in Southeast Asia, is that people have to already think about so many social and economic problem on a daily basis that their environmental commitments can't be separated from ensuring the protection and the good condition of people. So that's really something that you can't separate when we talk about climate action or sustainability transition. You can't remove the social part of it. It's impossible.

(21:30) Jeremy Au:

Great. And how should companies be addressing this set of concerns?

(21:33) Léa Klein:

Yeah, that's a that's a good point. Again so for instance there are a lot of things that can be related to the work environment. A lot of people were sharing with us that they would like to have better working conditions. There are still a lot of Southeast Asians who work six days a week, for instance. So having a two day off per week is not something that is still accessible to everybody. It's also in terms of ensuring health care coverage, like all those basic protection that people expect to have. So it's something that we saw in the report.

And the second thing is also in term of that commitment towards the broader society. For instance, when we were asking the question about how much do you care about diversity, inclusion that companies can really advocate for such solutions or really contributing to gender equalities across like the society in general. And what role do they play as much in terms of their marketing of that project or the service that they deliver to their customers, for instance.

(22:29) Jeremy Au:

Great. And interestingly, you also mentioned about diversity, equity, inclusion, DEI as something that companies should actively promote. And you said that 72% of them believe so. So obviously, this is a very loaded phrase these days, especially in America and maybe globally to some extent. Also, diversity, equity, and inclusion also means something quite different in Southeast Asia, in each specific country. So could you share a little bit more about what that means from your perspective?

(22:53) Léa Klein:

Yeah, for me, in Southeast Asia, it's more about gender equality. So for instance, it's true there are more and more programs and companies are taking a more advanced role in ensuring gender equality, but we are still far from it. Personally, I'm still invited to events where the panel is full of men. I'm still aware of many companies that the top leadership is only mostly composed of men. So it's more in that question, "how do we ensure like a better balance of roles"? You can also talk about the question of maternity and paternity leave. Men and women don't have the same number of weeks, so how can we also encourage more men to take more responsibility at home when actually they don't have the condition in the work space to also balance those type of responsibilities?

There are plenty of solutions that could be implemented, so it can be at the salary level, it can be in terms of work condition, but it's also in terms of like what are the programs you put in place, so more women can be in the decision making or leading roles in general, so we can better balance again responsibilities between men and women at home, but also in the workspace.

(23:57) Jeremy Au:

Great. To wrap things up, could you share about a time that you personally have been brave?

(24:01) Léa Klein:

Yeah. So the time I've been brave is literally when I decided to work in the impact space. It was 15 years ago, even in France, it was not that well known. And I can tell you that my parents were not excited about it at first. So I really stood up for myself. And now, obviously, it's way more normalized and there's more people working in the space and even my parents are super happy and proud of what I'm doing, but it was just like, even me, when I joined that space, I didn't know really what to expect, what was going to happen. And then I started the Asia office of Makesense. I didn't know what was going to happen. I just took year by year. And now I'm super proud of what happened. And I don't know if I've been brave, but at least I trusted my instinct and I went into the end of my journey and I'm still doing it today and I have no regrets about it.

(24:48) Jeremy Au:

Great. Thank you so much. On that note, I'd love to summarize three big takeaways I got from this. First of all, thank you so much for sharing that 98% of people in Southeast Asia do care about having meaning at work. And that, of course, the majority of people don't feel like they have that not very satisfied with that level at work. So I thought it was an interesting contrast to talk about that and how Southeast Asians are expecting the companies to help bring more meaning, more mission, ESG, more DEI, more learning programs, but to help inject that level of meaning at work.

Secondly, thanks so much for sharing about the differences within the countries and across regions as well. It was fascinating to hear a little bit about how, for example, the West really explicitly prioritizes environmental sustainability as a big part of meaning, whereas you said Southeast Asia is much more intertwined with the daily realities of the economic and distribution systems they have.

And lastly, thanks so much for sharing about how Asians are focused on really providing for the family and how that's a very key concern for them. And for them, there is a search for meaning both at work, as well as outside on that note. Thank you so much, Léa, for sharing your experience and report.

(25:49) Léa Klein:

Thank you so much for having me.