Health and wellness

Fewer than half of Hong Kong companies give workers paid time off for volunteer work, poll finds

  • Proportion of 41 per cent is better than American firms’ 22 per cent in separate survey, but advocates urge bosses to lead by example and take on more proactive role
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2018, 7:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2018, 7:00am

Fewer than half of Hong Kong companies give employees paid time off for volunteer work, a survey has found, as advocates call for bosses to take the lead in donating time for a good cause.

According to a poll in November by NGO HandsOn Hong Kong and market research firm Nielsen, 41 per cent of local firms provided such support for staff who want to give back to society.

While this was higher than the 22 per cent by American companies in a separate survey, the take-up rate in general for volunteer work locally has been low – a previous study by HandsOn and Nielsen found only one in four Hongkongers did volunteer work over the past 12 months.

The findings have led to NGOs and advocates urging more employers to support staff in these activities ahead of International Volunteering Day on Wednesday.

70pc of Hongkongers intend to do volunteer work, but fewer actually took action

“It is clear that more work needs to be done as companies have been shown to be a great catalyst for getting someone started on their volunteer journey,” said Sue Toomey, executive director of HandsOn.

“Given that lack of time is the biggest barrier to volunteering, companies can help reduce this by offering several paid days off work for volunteering.”

In the recent survey by HandsOn and Nielsen, 524 local members of the NGO were polled online to understand the impact of volunteering on individuals and companies. It was found that 78 per cent of 466 people who are working or studying wished they had more time outside work to volunteer.

Volunteer team has helped 4,000 needy Hong Kong families fix up their homes

Out of 412 respondents that are working, a mere 12 per cent said their companies donated to the organisation they volunteered with, under a “dollars for days” programme.

About 41 per cent of working interviewees said their employers provided paid time for staff to volunteer. This compared with just 22 per cent for American companies last year, according to another report by the Society for Human Resource Management.

Jack Guest, regional lead for diversity and inclusion at banking giant HSBC Asia-Pacific, said management had to set an example in encouraging volunteer work.

“You can have a great structure set up and policies to encourage volunteering, but if it is not demonstrated by senior leaders, a lot of people will not take that advantage,” he said.

If it is not demonstrated by senior leaders, a lot of people will not take that advantage
Jack Guest, HSBC Asia-Pacific

Guest added that one of the benefits of volunteer work was that it helped him integrate into the Hong Kong community and see sides of the city he might have missed otherwise.

He said his company offered two days of paid leave for volunteering, and if employees wanted to do more volunteer work, they could discuss with line managers to get an unlimited number of days off as long as they were still able to fulfil their role.

Some 70 per cent of working respondents in the latest HandsOn-Nielsen poll said their companies organised group voluntary activities, with 72 per cent of them having taken part in such events.

The survey also found that such actions contributed to the well-being and confidence of volunteers.

About 83 per cent of all respondents said volunteering improved their mental health and wellness, while 74 per cent said volunteering raised their self esteem.

Citing overseas studies, Toomey said it was shown that people who donated their time for a good cause felt more socially connected, in turn warding off loneliness and depression.

On Monday, Hong Kong Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said the government’s Volunteer Movement, launched 20 years ago, counts more than 1.3 million people among registered volunteers in the city, with over 3,200 participating organisations.

Director of Social Welfare Carol Yip Man-kuen noted the numbers had almost doubled from the figure a decade ago while the hours of volunteer work were also increasing.