Banks address family matters

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 March, 2008, 12:00am

Firms in Hong Kong, especially those in the local banking sector, have started to introduce 'family-friendly' human resources policies. Leading the way are Standard Chartered and DBS Bank, which have both set up policies ranging from new paternity leave schemes to special leave for family-related issues.

'We introduced our paternity leave scheme early last year as [part of] a series of family-friendly measures,' said Fern Ngai, head of human resources at Standard Chartered (Hong Kong).

'We saw that there was a trend across Hong Kong for improved work-life balance initiatives, and we know that it can be a stressful time when families have a new baby. So to give them some quality time, we thought that five days of paternity leave was very reasonable.'

Ms Ngai explained that the leave could be taken in one batch or spread across a few weeks, depending on the family's needs. The policy was introduced to staff by giving each male member a teddy bear carrying the tagline, 'You know what's best for your family. We know what's best for ours.'

The scheme is open to families who have adopted children.

DBS Bank in Hong Kong also offers family-friendly schemes to its staff, and was one of the first banks to introduce paternity leave. It gives new fathers two days' leave.

'We were one of the first banks to offer paternity leave in 2002,' said Blanche Chan, senior vice-president and head of human resources at DBS Bank Hong Kong. 'We also realised that some working mothers wanted to spend more time with their children and to change from full-time positions at the bank to part-time positions.'

'Because of this, we have offered packages that can accommodate such needs. It's great that we can do this as it gives quality time for mothers to be with their children and still keep their jobs.'

The paternity leave schemes offered by both banks are just part of series of varying initiatives that the banks have put together to help their staff deal with the different family issues that they may be dealing with as their careers progress.

'We aim to provide a workplace that offers different things at different stages of life,' Ms Ngai said.

'For example, right after you graduate you want to be gung-ho about your career, so we give young people those early career opportunities. But at a certain time you may want to shift gear and focus on family. So we align our policies to fit in with the rhythm [of our employees'] careers.'

Ms Chan said that DBS Bank also offered two days of 'pro-family' leave to all of its staff.

'It's just like casual leave,' she said. 'Staff can take the leave in order to spend time with their families, whether that's with their children, elderly parents or any family members. They may need to spend time with elderly parents or even simply take the kids to Ocean Park for the day.

'I think we are the only bank in Hong Kong to offer this kind of leave,' she added.

Taking the initiative and being the first bank to introduce new HR policies is important for banks as it shows that they care for their staff. The banks also benefit from having an engaged and happy workforce.

'We were one of the first local banks to introduce a five-day week in 2006,' Ms Chan said. 'Our staff used to work alternate Saturdays and the new policy was very welcomed by the staff. We also offer flexible working hours for staff who may need to start or finish work earlier.'

'Quite a lot of companies asked me why we introduced the five-day paternity leave scheme and whether it was really necessary. They seemed to view the scheme as a cost, but I like to see it as a benefit,' Ms Ngai explained. 'Of course there is a short-term cost, but there is also a huge benefit in terms of much more engaged employees and happier families.'

She said she would like to see other banks and organisations in Hong Kong following the lead of the first banks to introduce progressive policies.

'It doesn't matter if you are a large or a small company as every company in this market has issues with staff engagement and staff retention,' she said. 'People in Hong Kong spend most of their lives at work, so it's important for us to provide the right type of support.'

Measuring up

Other countries around the world provide paternity leave ranging from two to 15 days, according to Hong Kong government statistics. For instance, Australia provides one week's paternity leave without pay, while Sweden provides 10 days' paternity leave with pay funded by social insurance. However, there is no international labour standard on paternity leave. The government does not have comprehensive information on paid paternity leave arrangements in other places, and it was unable to provide statistics on the implementation of paternity leave in private enterprises. A study is under way, however, to determine whether Hong Kong should legislate paternity leave for men.