Better work-life balance for a competitive HK

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 October, 2007, 12:00am

It is thanks partly to a highly productive workforce that Hong Kong has been able to rebuild prosperity and reverse a budget deficit after the economic downturn. In the process, however, the city has accumulated a social deficit that is a byproduct of hard work and long hours - rising resentment among employees about the lack of a work-life balance. Many claim their work schedule is leaving them with too little time for a personal life.

At a time when Hong Kong must maintain its competitive edge amid global competition for talent, a healthy work-life balance is an expectation that cannot be ignored.

A reminder is to be found in the results of the latest survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme for Community Business, a corporate responsibility group. It covered more than 1,000 full-time workers earning from HK$10,000 to more than HK$50,000. A surprising 26.9 per cent said they would consider leaving the city for a better work-life balance.

The social costs of a poor work-life balance are well researched. They include the harmful effect on family life and unhealthy personal stress. Lack of leisure time spent with family and friends is linked to unhappiness.

In economic terms, too, it can reach the point of negative return. To remain competitive and climb the economic ladder, Hong Kong can raise productivity only by working smarter, not any harder. That calls for lifelong learning in the form of further study, training and retraining to acquire new skills. Many people now work so hard they have no time to spare for it.

The government has set the right example by introducing a five-day week for most civil servants. But many workplaces still have a six-day week with unpaid overtime. Employers need to be educated about how they can introduce a five-day working week and other family-friendly work practices.

The government should consider setting up a special unit to work with NGOs on co-ordinating the collection and sharing of information about creative work arrangements such as flexitime, job-sharing and working from home.