Time for leisure, and lifelong learning

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 October, 2009, 12:00am

Surveys tell us that Hong Kong tops an international league table for economic freedom and scores highly for freedom of the press and speech. But we have no comparisons that tell us where we rank for the leisure time that is so important for a full life. We therefore have to make do with a local survey that has tracked the trends of our work-life balance over the past few years.

The latest results, released last week, show we are a long way from getting it right. Consistent with the findings of the previous survey, about 30 per cent of more than 1,000 respondents say they would consider changing jobs for a better balance of leisure and work. Most say an ideal work-life ratio would allocate about 62 per cent of disposable time to work-related activities instead of the present 83 per cent.

True, average weekly working hours have fallen from 51.3 to 48.4 over the past three years, but they are still well above the 40 hours suggested by the International Labour Organisation. The survey by the public opinion programme of the University of Hong Kong for Community Business, a corporate responsibility group, found that younger people were more concerned about their work-life balance. It also suggests that long working hours can lead to diminishing returns in performance, with more than half of respondents complaining of fatigue and three in 10 reporting insomnia. Research indicates that the social costs of a poor work-life balance include harm to family life and unhealthy personal stress. Lack of leisure time with family and friends is linked to unhappiness.

It is not just about work versus play. Hong Kong owes its success to the hard work and enterprise of its people. But the government has rightly pointed out that its future prosperity is to be found in the development of a 'knowledge' society.

To remain competitive, Hong Kong must work smarter, not harder. That calls for lifelong learning in the form of further study, training and retraining to acquire new skills. A sensible work-life balance should make time for that, too.