Morale has risen at the Hong Kong Observatory since the director introduced a 'happy busines' initiative YOU HAVE TO sympathise with weather forecasters. When they predict correctly, which is more often than not, we take them for granted. But when they get it wrong, as they inevitably do given that meteorology is never an entirely predictable science, they weather a storm of abuse. The atmospheric pressure at the Hong Kong Observatory's hilltop headquarters in Tsim Sha Tsui must soar off the barometric scale when they shut down Hong Kong with warning signals of an approaching typhoon, only to be greeted by a few rain drops. The weather centre's 300 scientists have in recent years endured torrents of criticism levelled at the civil service in general. Observatory director Lam Chiu-ying said when he took over as head two years ago: 'Staff were very unhappy. The civil service was being blamed for the budget deficit and staff were being trimmed. 'The other problem is the nature of weather forecasting. You can never be 100 per cent accurate and are guaranteed to be wrong sometimes, so criticism is persistent,' added Mr Lam, who will be speaking about human resources issues at the 25th annual conference of the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management on November 8-9 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. The pressures resulted in staff regarding themselves as a 'lowly class in society', he said. A staff survey showed morale down to 4.1 on a scale of 10, a 'failed' result. Job satisfaction barely 'passed' at 5.4. Unfortunately for weather forecasters, like many civil servants, their specialised skills do not transfer easily to the free market. 'In any job, the most desirable state is to be able to go, but be happy to stay,' Mr Lam said. 'Unfortunately, in the civil service you sometimes find people who are unhappy to stay but unable to go.' All they can do is grumble. The situation presented Mr Lam with an unusual challenge. 'It is management's responsibility to rectify situations like this,' he said. 'I had to figure out ways to make them happy. Organisations are normally concerned about making customers happy. But we strongly signalled concern about the happiness of both the public and our colleagues.' Mr Lam came up with the concept of 'happy business', an initiative aimed at encouraging the weather forecasters to look on the bright side of life. His 'nine seeds' of happiness started with the job in hand - the vision to be a 'world model in protecting lives and building a better society through science'. Mr Lam said the Observatory was a world-class institution in its field, despite what the public might sometimes think. He has figures to back the claim. Latest public opinion surveys show that weather forecasts are regarded as 80 per cent correct, compared to 72 to 74 per cent a decade ago. 'Actually, we think we are better than 80 per cent, but it shows we are improving,' Mr Lam said. Having kept unbroken records since it opened in 1883, the Hong Kong weather station is also a world leader in charting the effect of urbanisation on the climate - revealing, among other things, that urbanisation has been a significant cause of global warming over the past century. It found that temperatures have risen in cities at double the rate of the countryside. Faster, more powerful computers could help meteorologists a lot, Mr Lam said, adding that there was always some uncertainty with machinery. 'Forecasts are calculated on data from various weather stations, but in between those stations are information gaps and without those finer details you can never be entirely sure. One small error can turn into a great one. The biggest computer of all is nature itself and we can never dream of mastering it,' he added. The 'happy business' initiative also includes courses to update skills and to organise public open days at the Observatory. Regular departmental meetings discuss achievements and thrash out problems, and Mr Lam hosts tea and lunch once a year for every member of staff. 'I also have a completely open-door policy in my office,' he said. The staff association is organising more trips and events and staff are also encouraged to compliment colleagues. 'It's a terrible shame we don't praise each other enough.' Employees are also instructed to go home before 6pm. 'Before they stayed until 7pm, 8pm or 9pm and came in at weekends,' said Mr Lam. 'That was the trend, but I broke it. Although at first I did have to walk into the office and tell them to go!' The results are encouraging. The Observatory is more productive than ever, with numerous new information products. The latest staff survey also showed morale up to 5.5, a pass at last, and job satisfaction edging higher at 6.1. 'We are seeing a positive trend,' Mr Lam said. Sunny side up Public anger at inaccurate weather forecasts and at the civil service in general caused low morale among Observatory staff. Observatory director Lam Chiu-ying responded with a 'happy business' initiative. His vision is to have cheerful staff and a world model in meteorology. The initiative includes more training, additional staff activities and trips, and open days at the Observatory. It also encourages more meetings to resolve problems and the recognition of good work. Mr Lam keeps his door open to all staff. He also encourages staff to go home before 6pm, allowing more free time. The result is improved morale and job satisfaction.