Finding a balance for work and life

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 June, 2015, 12:59am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 June, 2015, 12:59am

One person's perception of an ideal work-life balance could be another's idea of workaholism, and yet another's idea of loafing. This has not stopped recruitment agency Randstad concluding from a survey of 400 Hong Kong employees that this city has the worst work-life balance among workers in the Asia-Pacific region. What sets the survey apart is the criteria cited. Seventy-seven per cent of respondents felt they had to take work-related calls and respond to emails even when on holiday, and almost 75 per cent said bosses expected them to be on call after work hours.

Separately, a report commissioned recently by a panel of government advisers found that 23 per cent of workers put in 51.5 hours a week or longer, and a survey last year by consultancy Morgan McKinley found that 84 per cent of employees worked longer hours than stated in their contracts.

Is this kind of work-life balance a problem for Hong Kong in a globally competitive market for talent? Yes, according to Randstad Hong Kong director Peter Yu. No, according to Stanley Lau Chin-ho, chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, who says hard work is one of the city's core values and a basis of its competitiveness.

Given that work-life balance is so subjective, the contradiction is not surprising. But Lau's answer, to which many would subscribe, raises the question, what was the point of working harder and longer in the first place, if not to earn a better life? Surely by now Hong Kong is capable of remaining competitive without maintaining a worse work-life balance than other Asia-Pacific nations? The reality is that technology can extend the boss-worker relationship around the clock. The answer is to work smarter, such as adopting realistic timelines, flexible work hours, job-sharing and working from home, and ensuring proper handoffs by people going home or on leave. People need quality private time for relationships and activities without the distraction of work. A happy, refreshed worker is more efficient and productive than one who is not.