It’s official. Hong Kong is one of the world’s hardest working cities.
The 2019 Work-Life Balance Index from IT security firm Kisi confirms that Hong Kong residents are putting in long hours at work, often at the expense of their personal well-being.
Out of 40 global cities, Hong Kong ranked 37th for the length of working week. Employees are putting in an average of 44 hours at the coal face compared to 38.9 in Oslo, the front-running city. Moreover, one in five Hong Kong residents have a working week that stretches beyond 48 hours.
The same study found that Hong Kong offered the least number of minimum vacation days — just seven, compared to 30 in Paris and Helsinki.
All this time at the coal face is taking its toll. Hong Kong scored the second lowest result for residents’ happiness, just behind Kuala Lumpur.
Long working hours don’t just affect personal happiness and well-being. It’s a problem that employers need to be aware of because it can also impact productivity. A lengthy working week has a negative impact on our cognitive abilities, making employees less creative, and more prone to making errors.
Part of the problem is that in today’s competitive world, employees may feel extended hours are essential to their career — not just to stay on top of the work load, but also to stay ahead of their colleagues. Research by Robert Half confirms that one in two (52%) Hong Kong bosses have demoted an employee, and one of the main reasons was poor performance (28%).
Digital devices play a role here too. They keep staff connected to clients, customers and colleagues 24/7, and responding to emails outside of traditional business hours is becoming an accepted part of the daily routine of office workers.
The bottom line is that we’re just not switching off. But there are solutions.
Employers play a critical role in helping their teams strike a healthy work-life balance. It can involve shaking things up a little, but the payoff can be worthwhile. Improvements in work-life balance can boost employee health and well-being, lifting morale, motivation and general job satisfaction. It can also lead to improvements in performance and productivity.
Importantly, helping employees find a sense of balance can play a valuable role in staff retention. The search for improved work-life balance is the number one reason why Hong Kong employees leave their jobs. So any initiatives in this area can put an organisation on the right track to retain top talent.
Here are five tips for all businesses to achieve the balance for employees.
Flexibility can go a long way when it comes to nurturing work-life balance. Options including flexitime, part-time work, alternate working hours and even working from home, have been shown to considerably increase job satisfaction, productivity and lead to higher motivation.
Flexible working hours are increasingly being embraced by Hong Kong employers. According to the latest Robert Half Salary Guide, 97% of Hong Kong CFOs have initiatives in place to achieve the work-life balance of their staff, and flexible working hours is the most popular option.
Technology may help your staff stay up-to-date on what’s happening in the workplace, no matter where they are, or what time of day. But our 24/7 ‘always-on’ availability makes it hard to find genuine downtime.
Employers can help by encouraging employees to leave work behind when they leave the office. One strategy to make this happen is by setting boundaries around times when emails should — and should not — be sent.
Hong Kong’s workforce enjoys a tight minimum leave allowances — by international standards at least. It makes sense for business leaders to encourage employees to take all their annual leave entitlements every year, and this can be done by being accommodating around when leave can be taken. It’s a simple way to allow staff to switch off, de-stress and come back to the office feeling more motivated and productive.
Family commitments play an essential role in the work-life balance picture, and some flexibility by employers can go a long way.
Allowing employees to leave work a little earlier to collect children from school or childcare for instance, can be a small but valued step towards improving workplace performance.
Employers such as HSBC Hong Kong have gone a step further, expanding their suite of paid leave entitlements to include one-day birthday leave, five-day marriage leave and four-day compassionate leave.
Not every organisation has the financial resources to extend leave entitlements. But recognising the needs of families can help to boost a company’s reputation as a respected employer.
Simple steps like encouraging staff to leave their desk at lunchtime, or providing free bowls of fruit in the office cost very little while supporting the well-being of employees.
Encourage staff sporting groups, try holding yoga classes during lunch breaks, or introduce a lunchtime walking session. Any downtime away from the desk can recharge employees’ physical and mental well-being while lifting energy levels.
Every employee will have individual work-life preferences. The challenge for employers is to understand what works best for the team as a whole. This calls for conversations with team members around what can be done to create positive change.
In our busy world, achieving a better work-life balance is not always easy but it is good business practice. It can reignite your team’s enthusiasm and productivity, and help your company become an employer of choice that attracts and retains top talent.