Hong Kong's work ethic has become famous the world over, exemplified by images of tailors working into the small hours to produce a fitted suit overnight. There can be little doubt this culture of hard work has been a major factor behind the city's success. 'People in Hong Kong are willing to work very long hours, not because the boss asked them to, but because this is from the heart. They feel this is part of their job,' said Lai Kam-tong, president of the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management. 'One of the beauties of the workforce in Hong Kong is this long-established culture. It begins in the family and continues right through the school system.' The culture of working long hours had become part of Hongkongers' 'basic behaviour', he said. But Mr Lai said that since Sars, he had noticed a change in the practice. 'People realised that health had become their first priority,' he said. 'People worked very hard in the old days, but they now realise that health is very important, and also they treasure time with their families.' Mr Lai, however, rejected the suggestion that spending less time in the office would mean people were not working as hard, as the emphasis should be on quality and productivity, not simply the number of hours clocked up. 'If people are not willing to work longer hours, will that have a negative effect on Hong Kong's competitiveness?' he asked. 'That is actually something we should drive at. We should get people to look at what is the best way to get things done.' Mr Lai said he once heard a high-level government official proudly declare that he worked until midnight every day, which set a bad example for the workforce. 'Is that effective? It is just work, it's not smart,' he said. 'We need people to work efficiently. If someone has been working every day until midnight and doesn't even have time to rest, how can that person be innovative?' He contrasted this approach with that taken by the head of the Hong Kong Observatory. 'At 5.30 every night, he walks around every floor and tells everybody to go home. If anybody hasn't left, he asks them why they need to stay in the office,' Mr Lai said. 'This is the kind of culture we should support.' One of the most visible features of Hong Kong's reputation for long working weeks is the 51/2-day week favoured by government departments and financial institutions. However, this appears to be nearing an end as the government has announced plans to give 70,000 civil servants two days off a week. Banks and financial institutions are expected to follow suit. The Securities and Futures Commission, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, and the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes Authority are reviewing their working hours.