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Flexible hours boost morale and bottom line

Published on Friday, 22 Nov 2013
Amanda Yik

It seems that employers who can offer a better work-life balance may gain not only the gratitude of their staff but also a competitive edge.

The 2013 State of Work-Life Balance in Hong Kong survey by Community Business, with the University of Hong Kong (HKU), reveals that a majority of workers are willing to vote with their feet and put their family and personal needs ahead of those of their job.
Fifty-six per cent of the 1,048 employees interviewed for the survey said they were willing to leave their current job for a new position that would allow them to spend more time with their family, while 63 per cent said that the ability of a company to offer a family-friendly working environment is one of the top factors determining their decision to join, stay with or leave a company. These figures were even higher when the answers from younger interviewees only were considered.

More broadly, 82 per cent of Hong Kong employees surveyed said companies need to take active steps to create a more family-friendly work environment.

Amanda Yik, senior programme manager with Community Business, believes there are compelling reasons why local businesses are increasingly taking on board such findings.

“We need to bear in mind that one of the biggest benefits of work-life balance is attraction and retention of talent,” Yik points out. “The cost of replacing high-performing staff is often 100 to 150 per cent of the person’s annual salary. So the potential savings of creating a workplace that respects work-life balance is huge.”

The single measure that survey respondents would most like to see companies introduce is flexible working hours, with 28 per cent citing this. Yik thinks that much of the remaining resistance to this practice is based on unwarranted fears.

“Many companies in Hong Kong are concerned that if they start offering flexible time, their employees will work fewer hours, thereby affecting their ability to meet business needs and client demands,” she says. “However, this is a misunderstanding as flexible time does not mean fewer hours – it just means that the hours are not always from 9am to 6pm. They are also worried about opening the floodgates – if they offer flex time to one person, everyone will want it. In reality, what we hear from companies that have tried implementing some sort of flexibility is that even if you offer it, not everyone will take it.

“Also, in Hong Kong, the culture of face time is prevalent. Many managers think employees need to be in the office for them to believe they are working. According to our 2012 survey, 12 per cent of employees think that the longer they stay in the office, the more committed they are perceived to be, and 22 per cent feel that most people do not leave work before their bosses do.

“So if people start coming in and working at different times of the day, that means that they may not all be in the office at the same time, and some managers feel that they don’t know how to manage people in a more dynamic environment,” Yik says.

The Hong Kong office of KPMG China, part of the global network of professional firms providing audit, tax and advisory services, is one local operation implementing initiatives to improve work-life balance. HR partner Maria Lee says that along with flexible hours, the company can offer other arrangements to staff who need them.

“One popular type is flexi-leave,” Lee explains. “So if they [her colleagues] need extra time off in addition to annual and study leave, they can apply for this and it will be partly paid. There is also – depending on their roles – temporarily or permanently reduced working hours – and those who need time off to deal with important matters can take a career break.”

However, Lee points out that firms such as KPMG do have to strike their own balance between the needs of employees and those of clients.

“When we deal with clients, their expectations are very important. Do they expect to be able to call our colleague on only three days of the week or at any time of any day? For back office roles, it’s easier to manage the workload, but for external roles, we’d have take into account the time of the year, such as peak seasons for our audit and tax teams. But the good thing about being a firm of this size is it’s often possible to make covering arrangements.”

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