Five hours cut from average working week in Hong Kong

Dennis Eng

Time spent at work has fallen by an average of five hours a week from four years ago, thanks mainly to the government switching to a five-day week, a study has found.

Research by the University of Hong Kong and consultancy CSR Asia found the average working week was 49.6 hours, down from 55.2 in 2004.

The shorter week has resulted in a generally happier workplace with greater job satisfaction, said Richard Welford, who wrote the study.

The percentage of employees regularly doing unpaid overtime fell to 62.4 from 79.6 in 2004, while those regularly working late at night dropped to 51.7 per cent from 74.2 per cent. The survey was carried out in the first two months of the year and covered 1,027 people.

A major factor in the improvements to work-life balance seemed to be the move to a five-day working week as well as the healthy economy and rising wages, Professor Welford said.

'There is no doubt that without the stance taken by the government we would still be seeing the sort of dissatisfaction with work that we detected in 2004. Not only are people working fewer hours but regular overtime work seems to have fallen, and there has been a huge increase in job satisfaction.'

The government began introducing a five-day working week for civil servants in July 2006, although they still worked 44 hours a week. Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said he hoped the move would allow staff to spend more time with their families. Leading banks had made similar changes.

Professor Welford, an environmental management professor at the university, warned that a recession could reverse this positive trend but otherwise he believed companies would continue to cater to a better work-life balance for staff.

Despite the findings, he said there was still a perception that people were working too much. Compared with the government, the financial services sector has an average working week of 54 hours. This is an improvement from 2004, when the hours averaged 59.6.

The biggest drops in working hours have come in the construction sector, down 7.3 to 50.5 hours, and the manufacturing industry, down 9.3 hours to 50.2.

Twenty-seven per cent of respondents took sick leave to recover from working long hours, the study found.

Striking a balance

Hongkongers are working fewer hours and less unpaid overtime, but annual leave is still falling short of expectation

Annual leave per year (2008

The number of days all respondents considered a fair amount

The number of days they actually receive 18.7