Scales levelling out on local work-life balance
Hong Kong employees who feel there are never enough hours in the day for both work and play can perhaps take heart from new findings that suggest their work-life balance is getting better compared with other major economic centres.
The Regus Work-Life Balance Index says that despite the city’s reputation for long working hours, Hong Kong’s work-life balance is now at the same level as Canada and outstripping the US and Australia. The survey covered 26,000 professionals in 90 countries.
While the global average work-life balance figure slipped from 124 index points last year to 120, Hong Kong’s score increased by five points, from 117 to 122. This puts it equal with Canada, significantly higher than most major European markets, and above the US (117 points) and Australia (116 points).
Jon Walsh, Asia-Pacific communications manager at Regus, says findings from the survey and anecdotal evidence indicate Hong Kong employees are managing their time better. He adds that this is likely to be linked to the increasing use of technology and mobile devices.
“Hong Kong is widely connected to the rest of the world. However, technology is enabling people to conduct business on the move,” Walsh says.
While Singapore (128 points) and Taiwan (119 points) also saw modest gains compared with last year’s survey, the mainland saw a sharp 13-point drop from 149 points to 136. A total of 72 per cent of mainland professionals reported that they are spending more time working this year than last – but 69 per cent also said they enjoyed work more now.
“In general, work-life balance perceptions improve when people have a job which is enjoyable and meaningful,” Walsh says. He adds that the companies Regus has worked with which have introduced flexible working practices have seen productivity increase by between five and 15 per cent.
While there is no one-size-fits-all interpretation of work-life balance, Walsh says Hong Kong women tend to enjoy a better work-life balance than the global average, with a score of 128. Local men fared less well, with a score of 118 – just below the global average for both genders.
The biggest difference between the two groups was the amount of time they were able to spend at home or with family. For Hong Kong women, 72 per cent were happy with the amount of time they spent in this area, against just 61 per cent of men. “Without being too stereotypical, men tend to work longer hours so that their partners can spend more time with their children,” Walsh says.
Interestingly, a 2012 survey by the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion programme for Community Business – an NGO dedicated to advancing corporate social responsibility in Asia – found that nearly 27 per cent of those surveyed would consider leaving Hong Kong if it meant they could achieve a better work-life balance elsewhere. The survey covered more than 1,000 full-time workers at all levels.
“Over the past seven years, Community Business’ State of Work-Life Balance in Hong Kong survey has shown minimal increase in people’s satisfaction and there’s clearly room for improvement,” says Robin Bishop, the NGO’s director of corporate responsibility.
IT vendor Citrix, which was ranked 19th in the “Top 25 Companies for Work-Life Balance” list by glassdoor.com, an online career and workplace community, has introduced alternative work arrangements to help staff achieve a better work-life balance.
“At Citrix, we are great believers in what we call mobile work styles,” says Victor Tsao, Citrix area vice-president and general manager for Greater China. “This is shorthand for giving people access to the technology and policies that allow them to be just as productive when they are outside of the office as when they are in the office.”
Tsao says employees are able to enjoy greater freedom to carry out their work at the most convenient work times and locations. They are also encouraged to use IT resources that suit them best. “We think this represents a win-win situation,” Tsao says. He adds that staff benefit from being able to work from a place where they find inspiration and can be their most productive, and at times that allow them to balance responsibilities outside work.
Tsao says Citrix’s initiative of BYOD, or “bring your own device”, which the company sponsors, has a big role to play in bringing about the flexibility that Citrix champions. “It’s common sense that people are more productive, and possibly even enjoy work more, if they are free to choose the computing devices they are most comfortable with, rather than being forced to work on, for example, a standard, company-provided Windows desktop,” Tsao says.