Career Advice Expert Advice

Stressing the need to relax

Money is important, and for many in Hong Kong's cut-throat financial services industry, it is a primary motivational driver. But all the money in the world can only do so much if staff feel overworked. What, then, do banks and other financial services organisations do to help employees deal with stress?

"Paying more is not the solution," says Fiona Yung, executive director for Tricor Executive Resources. "If you're paid more, then you're probably expected to put in more hours and contribute more. In the banking sector, there's a general awareness that stress is a problem, but I am not sure how many can find a solution. It's a very competitive environment, and many [banks] are very profit-oriented."

One organisation that seeks to keep an eye on the well-being of its workforce is the Bank of East Asia. Mimi Kam, general manager and head of the bank's HR and corporate communications division, says this is done in several areas.

First, the bank provides a package of staff benefits that includes medical insurance and hospital treatment, plus discounts for the purchase of insurance plans. Staff are also entitled to paid sick leave, maternity, paternity, marriage and bereavement leave, and are granted an extra day of annual leave in their birthday month. Financially, there is help in the form of mortgage and consumer loans available at preferential interest rates.

Canteens at its offices in Central and Kwun Tong serve complimentary lunches. At its BEA Tower in Kowloon, there is free access to amenities such as a fully-equipped gym, rooftop garden, library, and multi-function hall.

The bank also runs its own sports and recreation club. It organises subsidised activities including cooking lessons, barbecues and boat trips, and some are open to family and friends. Free wellness talks and seminars, meanwhile, address topics such as parenting, stress management and healthy living. The bank has also set up grievance channels for staff to express job-related gripes, and conducts surveys to gauge the effectiveness of wellness programmes.

In 2007 the bank started its employee assistance programme, which now offers staff counselling either face-to-face or via phone and e-mail. In addition, a staff relations manager helps oversee employee wellness.

Martin Cerullo, managing director of development for Asia-Pacific at Alexander Mann Solutions, says most banks in Hong Kong have some form of assistance programme to help employees handle stress, including information given as part of their joining packs. Some organisations also run dedicated intranet websites offering guidance on managing the stress of daily life and work.

Amanda Yik, senior programme manager for Community Business, says most major companies invest in some kind of service to help staff deal with stress, but that approaches vary. "It could be long-term assistance schemes, whereby staff have access to professional independent counselling services. It can be stress-management skills training, or free gym membership. Individual coaching is also offered to help meet work challenges, albeit not limited to handling stress. More companies are looking at building resilience," she says.

Given the economic climate and regulatory pressures, they are often up against multiple stress factors. "Other emerging trends including mindfulness training, meditation and healing techniques," Yik adds.