It is time to end the culture of long working hours in Hong Kong's offices

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2012, 12:00am


Coming back to live and work in Hong Kong after spending 30 years abroad has prompted me to think about the city's past and future.

It was because people in Hong Kong paid attention to the importance of their working and family lives, that we have seen this city develop into what is now a famous and commercially successful metropolis.

Over the last two decades, the continuing success of Hong Kong has been put under pressure by economic developments in neighbouring Asian cities and countries. So, what should our vision for the future be?

The older Hong Kong generation endured long working hours to create and sustain their entrepreneurial spirit and this practice is ingrained in our culture.

This practice has worked well in the past and created both personal wealth and economic success stories.

With changing social enterprises and opportunities, it is difficult to see how the prevailing culture of long working hours can still transform many ordinary workers into successful business owners.

For ordinary people, without a career path, the consequence of such punishing work regimes results in stress and tiredness. This culture coupled with a lack of career progression for many, could lead to there being many more unhappy people in the workplace. Also, with little time left after work, family life suffers. There is barely enough time to eat, rest and sleep before the next day, so individuals have little time for their partners or their children. Parenthood responsibility is then delegated to the other spouse, maid or grandparents.

Hong Kong is suffering from a low birth rate, and a lack of quality time for family life is a contributory factor.

If we do not have enough young people to support our society, Hong Kong's future is doomed. It is time to think about reforming our working hours and practices, and to think more constructively about quality rather than quantity.

Next, we have to tackle living space. It costs so much to rent or buy a flat. Why do bricks and mortar cost so much more in Hong Kong than almost anywhere else? Surely shortage of land is only part of the answer, when one can put more concrete and steel together to build many more floors of apartments.

A good-quality work life and affordable living space are important factors in ensuring that Hongkongers are healthier, happier people.

Peter Wong Sze-chai, Kowloon City