MAYBE IT IS masochism or perhaps just plain Confucianism. Whatever it is, Hongkongers' attitude towards retirement is causing some concern and a lot of confusion. A recent global survey by HSBC that also covered 1,000 people and 300 private-sector employers in Hong Kong points to extreme self-sacrifice that borders on martyrdom among the city's workers. For one thing, it shows local workers are very much like their British counterparts in their belief that 'people should retire when the time is right, rather than at a set age'. This belief is held by 44 per cent of the Hong Kong respondents, versus 32 per cent among other Asians and the 35 per cent global average. This workaholic attitude is probably behind the secret of success of eminent grey luminaries such as tycoons Li Ka-shing, Lee Shau-kee, Stanley Ho Hung-sun and Sir Run Run Shaw who is a year shy of his own centennial. All of these silver foxes are still hard at work, commanding boardroom raids and making billions a week while their western counterparts are comparing Zimmer frames, hip implants and promotional funeral packages. HSBC says 60 per cent of employers in Hong Kong have no mandatory retirement age - close to the global level but higher than Asia's 46 per cent average. The survey also found 'few people in Hong Kong think the government should bear the cost of retirement and almost none think employers should'. Now, that may be music to employers' ears, but 25 per cent of the city's company officials - against 2 per cent among the workers surveyed - actually believe 'they should pay for employees' retirement, and many think they will end up doing so'. This may sound a bit disingenuous, as both employees and employers contribute to the Mandatory Provident Fund, Hong Kong's private-sector version of a workers' pension scheme. Still, Hong Kong seems to have a more enlightened tribe of employers, as most of them think losing older workers is tantamount to losing knowledge and skills, rather than a way of making room for younger workers, the survey shows. Like Singapore's Central Provident Fund, the MPF has proved popular here, as government-enforced savings are the most widely supported means of paying for retirement in Hong Kong, closely followed by 'raising the retirement age'. Given their seeming reluctance to rely on their employers' contributions or government handouts for their retirement upkeep - 30 per cent of the global respondents believe in government support, versus 12 per cent for Hong Kong - it is no wonder local workers are more anxious than their Asian or global counterparts about financial security in their old age. A staggering 71 per cent of the Hong Kong respondents say that 'not having to worry about money' in their retirement is one of the most important secrets to a happy old age, compared with the 42 per cent global average. One can probably attribute this paranoia to the strong belief among Hong Kong workers that they should bear most of the burden of supporting themselves in retirement. That would be no problem if one were a billionaire or had won a Mark Six Snowball prize. Unfortunately, most Hong Kong workers earn only so much in a city with a notoriously high cost of living. Hence, the survey notes: 'There is a greater expectation in Hong Kong that families will provide help and support in retirement.' About 45 per cent of the Hong Kong respondents believe their children should help pay for their living and medical expenses, against about 30 per cent for Asia and the rest of the world. Given Hong Kong's increasingly greying population - a phenomenon seen in most industrialised economies such as Japan, the US and the European Union - this generational expectation will be causing a few wrinkles.