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Civil servants go to work at the government offices in Tamar on May 18. For 2021-22, the resignation rate at the civil service hit the highest level since 1997. Photo: Nora Tam

Letters | For a result-oriented civil service, workplace communication must be a two-way street

  • Readers discuss why the administration’s style of communication with the civil service must change, the albatross of elderly vaccination, and how the authorities’ response to a campus harassment incident will be closely watched
Hong Kong
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The launch of casual wear Fridays last month may have cheered up civil servants a bit recently. Nevertheless, ever since 2020, the double whammy of social unrest and Covid-19 pandemic has cast a pall over the civil service, which has been portrayed as the “backbone” of the government in meeting political and social expectations.
The administration has in recent years been more forceful in requiring civil servants to be loyal to Hong Kong and support government policies. This can be seen in its recent open letters to public employees.
Its “ Letters to Colleagues” are circulated internally and have been made public by the Civil Service Bureau since 2006. Letters written between 2020 and 2022 have broached the controversial oath of allegiance, electoral reform and national security law as well as anti-epidemic measures.

To understand the effectiveness of the administration’s internal policy communication, I analysed 15 open letters composed during the stint of former civil service secretary Patrick Nip Tak-kuen as part of a sociolinguistic study.

I found that more than one third of the minister’s expressions were booster words like “important”, “must” and “certainly” to show his certitude about policy decisions, so as to win civil servants’ support.

Rhetoric such as “this is what the general public expects of us” appears in 27 per cent of the letters. Community expectations are mentioned to explain why public servants must pledge allegiance. This echoes the government’s requirement that public workers support all policy decisions, including on the oath of allegiance, national security law and vaccination, so as to promote internal and external political stability.

It would appear that this authoritative tone has worked in obtaining officers’ policy compliance during the anti-government protests and pandemic. For instance, merely 0.07 per cent of civil service employees were dismissed due to their refusal to take the oath.

Nonetheless, the policymakers’ overly determined tone in their communications can be a double-edged sword as the resignation rate in 2021-22 hit the highest level since the handover.

The appearance of just one question in all the letters may indicate a rather hierarchical employer-employee relationship that has deterred bottom-up workplace interaction.

Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu is seeking a “result-oriented” work culture. An open atmosphere of bilateral workplace communication between management and staff could stimulate contributions to policymaking and help the government meet public expectations. The casual wear Fridays initiative might only be cold comfort when it comes to work satisfaction in the public sector.

Two-way workplace communication, instead, is the key to retaining and attracting talent to reverse the present exodus that has hindered governance.

Alison Ng, postgraduate of applied linguistics, University of Hong Kong

Find other ways to sell elderly on vaccination

The headline of the main report on the front page of the Post on September 12 read “‘Full reopening requires higher vaccine uptake’”. Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po wrote on his blog: “Only with concerted efforts to further expand the vaccination scheme will we have more leeway to resume international travel, stabilising the economy and restarting the impetus for growth to the greatest extent possible.”

The government is concerned about the vaccination rate among people over 80; only 51 per cent have received three shots.

Has it not occurred to the government that people in this category are unlikely to travel and hence have no motivation to get vaccinated on that account? They have to be educated in other ways. The full reopening can still take place and it would have very little effect on those in care homes, for example.

So many people, and not just those one converses with, but also people reported in the media, have asked for a full reopening – please, just do it!

Chris Stubbs, Discovery Bay

College students should know ABCs of human decency

I refer to the case of campus harassment at the University of Hong Kong last week. Three local students, who were drunk, knocked on the door of the room of two female students from the mainland, shouting in Mandarin: “Hong Kong welcomes you” and “Come on let’s play”.

Was this a vicious provocation with a target in mind? I don’t know how they found a dorm room where two mainland students happened to be staying, and I cannot imagine the despair and fear those two girls must have felt.

Mainland students are not a minority on campus, and how the authorities respond to this incident will affect mainland students’ perceptions.
While prejudice against mainland people in Hong Kong cannot cease overnight, it must be said that basic respect is the foundation of human decency. It is extraordinary that college students needed to be reminded of this.

Liao Sizhe, Sha Tin