WHEN A GAGGLE of Generation-Z employees from Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore and Tokyo gets together in one place, the ensuing conversation will usually be conducted in decent English. The participants are all equally fluent in another common language—that of corporate despair.

The inflexible hierarchies, long hours and culture of presenteeism that pervade Asia Inc have left many young workers deeply dissatisfied with their lot in life. In an annual global survey of employee wellbeing by Gallup, an American pollster, just 18% of under-35s in East Asia say they are engaged at work, below the already tepid 23% global average. Japan and Hong Kong skirt the bottom of the global rankings for engagement across all age groups.

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