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Aiming for Work-Life Balance in Hong Kong

How to drive cultural change

Over here in Europe we may think we've got issues with a long hours working culture and problems in achieving a desirable work-life balance. But that has to be set in the context of a century of campaigning and legislation to achieve progressively shorter working days, holiday entitlements and more recently the Working Time Directive.

These haven't, though, done away with a competitive working culture in many large organisations where being seen to be there early and late is part of the down-payment on a ticket to the top.

The need to be there is even more intense in the cities that are flourishing in the vibrant economies of Asia.  But what is the cost for the individual?  And is there a business case for companies in Asia doing more to help their employees establish a better work-life balance?

In Hong Kong there is a group of companies who are trying to take action to promote greater work-life balance.  Key to this is being able to drive forward changes to organisational culture.

Last week in Hong Kong was Work-Life Balance Week, organised by local non-profit membership organisation Community Business, which saw the launch of a new work-life balance guide: Driving Cultural Change to Achieve Work-Life Balance.

This guide - the latest in a series of guides produce by the organisation - highlights the need for Hong Kong businesses to take action to retain talented and enthusiastic staff and to recognise the impact that poor work-life balance is having on their bottom line.

Current state of Work-Life Balance in Hong Kong

The report begins with a report on its annual survey into work-life balance in Hong Kong companies.

The survey revealed that the majority of employees (39.1%) perceive that their employers’ top priority is to maximise profits without regard for their workload, resulting in companies taking on more projects and assignments than employees can deal with.

The second biggest reason for workers feeling overloaded at work is insufficient resources. More than 30% (33.1%) of the Hong Kong working population thinks that their companies have insufficient manpower or are understaffed.

The following chart shows the problems that arise form poor work-life balance:

In all that's around 78% of employees who feel that work-life balance problems affect their performance in some way.

The survey also provided strong evidence supporting the fact that long working hours and the culture of presenteeism reduces productivity, and that working longer does not necessarily mean that more work gets done:

  • 33.3% said they spend time on activities not related to work, e.g. surfing the internet and visiting social network websites, to de-stress during office hours.
  • Nearly 1/3 of the respondents (29.7%) felt they were less efficient during the working day as they know that they will have to work until late.
  • 26.7% have had to take sick leave in the last 12 months as they have been too tired from work.

Identifying and overcoming the barriers to change

The guide identifies ten barriers to change - barriers cited by managers in researching the guide.

  1. Educating employees to take ownership of their work-life balance
  2. Companies struggle to develop a robust business case
  3. Companies fear work-life balance will make them less competitive
  4. Mangers don't think senior posts can be part-time
  5. Work-life balance is not an option for senior roles
  6. A widespread assumption that visibility = productivity
  7. Managers are not embracing work-life balance
  8. Work-life balance means a loss of control for managers
  9. Work-life balance is simply not possible in a 24/7 environment
  10. There is no way to measure the success of work-life balance initiatives.

For each of these perceived barriers there is practical advice from practitioners from around the world, and there are case studies of Hong Kong companies such as PepsiCo and Standard Chartered Bank who walk the talk on work-life balance to show that it really can be done.

Robin Bishop, Chief Operating Officer of Community Business, is keen to work with businesses to demonstrate how small changes can make a big difference:

“Work-Life Balance has always been a challenge for the Hong Kong workplace culture.

"Our concern is not only for the 50%+ of our working population who currently feel stressed and overwhelmed by workload - it is also for businesses. Those companies who fail to recognise the impact that poor work-life balance is having in terms of turnover and productivity are at running serious risks to their bottom line.

"We recognise that this is an ongoing journey, but those that persevere will reap the benefits.  They will differentiate themselves in the marketplace and creating loyal and motivated employees.”


October 2011



Further Information

Driving Cultural Change to Achieve Work-life Balance, by Robin Bishop of Community Business, is available at


Flexibility verdict:  This guide to work-life balance and culture change provides a fascinating insight into working life in the city where, more than any other, East meets West.  And it provides very practical and business-focused advice for companies looking to support their employees' quest for a better work-life balance.










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