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A hard day at the beach

Published on Friday, 20 Jul 2012
Martin Cerullo
Silvano Dressino
Hans Leijten

While tickets, passport and money will doubtless feature on the checklist as Hongkongers set off for the summer break, for many, another priority sits high on the to-do list, with a large number of employees indicating they plan to spend up to three hours a day working on company business while they are on holiday.

As technology continues to reinvent the different channels of daily life, a Regus survey reveals over half of Hong Kong workers – 56 per cent – will try to fit in up to three hours’ work each day instead of relaxing by the pool or spending time with their families and friends. This trend is amplified further amongst a hard-core 26 per cent of workaholics who plan to work more than three hours a day.

“Developments in technology mean that workers are always connected and the temptation to check e-mails, and complete any tasks that follow on from them, is easy to succumb to,” says Hans Leijten, Regus’ vice-president East Asia.

He says with smartphones, netbooks and internet connections everywhere, it has become increasingly difficult to switch off. “Taking a break and devoting time to rest, family and friends is vital to staying healthy,” he says.

The Regus survey also reveals that instead of enjoying some free time with their family or friends, 54 per cent of Hongkongers say that they will still be operating on a slightly reduced “business as usual” mode from the sunbed by using their smartphones and netbooks.

Winton Au, associate professor at the Chinese University’s Department of Psychology, says there is a distinction between workaholics and engaged workers that every company wants.

“For workaholics, work is stress; for engaged workers, work is fun,” says Au, adding he doesn’t think working during holidays is something to get too worried about providing you are not neglecting others.

“It is a matter of time management,” he says. “Sometimes on holiday we just want to spend an afternoon reading a good book on a beach on our own. How does it matter if instead of reading a good book you are having fun working on your e-mails?” asks Au.

Eunice Ng, director at Avanza Consulting for Asia-Pacific, believes employees who are seemingly unable to break their love affair with the office are often those responsible for a crucial function or senior leadership role. “They may need to stay in contact due to insufficient delegation of responsibilities or lack of expertise to fill the gap while they are absent,” says Ng.

Like most recruitment specialists, Ng believes employees should have sufficient time to relax and unwind during holidays. “There may be some employers who expect their staff to work during their holidays, but others would rather be seen as a caring company that knows how to encourage employees to strive to achieve some sort of work-life balance,” says Ng.

As a management professional in a global leadership role based in Hong Kong, Martin Cerullo, Alexander Mann Solutions managing director for development, Asia-Pacific, says there is a certain group of employees who feel compelled to stay in touch with the office for a variety of reasons. This includes those who feel it will be helpful for their career, to impress bosses or to justify a job position.

“Part of an employee’s ‘deal’ with their employer is their vacation. To ensure the very highest levels of employee engagement it is essential that holidays are honoured without work expectations,” says Cerullo, who chooses to stay connected during anything close to a two-week-plus break by providing a separate number, via his assistant, so he can be contacted on it if there is an immediate need for input on a critical decision.

Matthew Bennett, managing director at recruitment agency Robert Walters, Hong Kong, believes from an employer’s perspective, if the employer is paying for the employee’s smartphone, there is often an expectation to stay in touch with the office. Employees might also choose to check and clear emails to prevent an e-mail overload when they return to work.

“An hour a day clearing emails can save a massive headache when employees return to the office,” says Bennett, who adds there is a growing number of employees who look to take ownership over their jobs and want to stay connected to their areas of responsibility.

At the same time, Bennett believes there should be a limit to how much work is expected or how much employees plan to produce during a holiday. He says that ultimately it is down to the employer to set parameters. “If employers want to get the best out of their employees, they should insist they take the time to recharge their batteries,” says Bennett.

For those who need to combine work and holidays, Silvano Dressino, JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong resident manager, says his hotel offers both wired and wireless options, as well as free public Wi-fi in the lobby area, to help guests stay connected.

“Most of our business comes from corporate travellers and one of the most important requirements is internet connectivity in the guestroom, and business centre services, and even for some use of meeting rooms,” says Dressino. However, he points out that on the executive floors, a private reading room provides an oasis for those who require some quiet time to catch up on their work or reading.

“To date, we have not received any requests for an area where mobile devices can’t be used, but if we do, this is something we will certainly look into or explore further,” says Dressino.

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