Promote a New Occupational Culture Campaign for Work-Life Balance

Motion debate on “Urging the Government to promote a new occupational culture campaign for work-life balance” to be held at the Legislative Council meeting of Wednesday, 17 December 2009

Hon CHAN Kin-por’s original motion

That, as Hong Kong has developed into a society with a mature economy where the opportunities for upward social mobility continue to reduce, the promotion opportunities for many employees, especially the younger generation, are drastically reduced, coupled with heavy work pressure, they easily develop a sense of failure in work and life, which has a negative impact on the long-term development of the Hong Kong society; in this connection, this Council urges the Government to promote a new occupational culture campaign for work-life balance to alleviate pressure in life brought by various problems at work, educate the public to establish proper values towards life that, in addition to work, there are still many things worth pursuing in a healthy life, and encourage the public to develop a diversified life, including building harmonious families and a public-spirited society, as well as pursuing knowledge, etc; the Government should at the same time make employers understand that the mode of work-life balance may mitigate work pressure on employees and increase their passion for work, thereby achieving the goals of enhancing productivity and work quality, as well as reduce labour disputes, ultimately enabling both the employees and employers to benefit at the same time; the relevant government measures should include:

(a) to set up a special task force, and adopt new thinking to tailor-make a new occupational culture policy on work-life balance for Hong Kong, and disseminate the message of a diversified and healthy life to various social strata so as to enable the public to understand that achievements in life do not come solely from work, and that building harmonious families and a public-spirited society, etc are also important achievements in life;

(b) the Government to take the lead in promoting a new occupational culture of work-life balance and set up a special fund to subsidize companies in various industries and trades according to their needs to actively promote a more flexible work culture and other measures for work-life balance, thereby enabling Hong Kong to become a more vibrant and competitive city;

(c) to encourage enterprises to implement policies to meet the needs of employees regarding work-life balance, including providing support for the employees and their families, assisting in solving their
emotional problems such as those stemming from work pressure and encouraging enterprises to organize public-spirited and spare-time recreational activities for the employees, so as to enable the employees to enjoy a fruitful life, consolidate their morale and increase their passion for work; and

(d) to encourage enterprises to implement a flexible leave policy, and give them special holidays such as paternity leave, study leave, compassionate leave, etc, when employees encounter major events in life.

Speech of the Hon K P Chan, JP At the Legislative Council On 16 December 2009 To Move Member’s Motion on Promoting a New Occupational Culture Campaign for Work-Life Balance (Synopsis)

MR PRESIDENT: The motion that I am moving today is on promoting a new occupational culture of work-life balance. Many friends of mine are wondering what it is all about. Apparently, a lot of people in Hong Kong have no idea of what is meant by work-life balance. Perhaps, it is a reflection of their typical behaviour of putting work before life at all time.

In simple words, work-life balance refers to arrangements to allow employees to pay equal attention to career as well as personal and family life with a view to relieving them from the stress that may arise from imbalance. Specifically, these arrangements include flexible working hours, flexible leaves, and assistance to staff and their family, etc. In America and Europe, work-life balance is a belief and they have been practicing it for 20 years. Under advocate of the Government and support of enterprises, it has become a shared corporate culture. As quality of life improves, staff productivity will also increase to benefit the corporation. Thus, it is said to be a win-win deal for both employees and employers. It may be unfamiliar to many people in Hong Kong in concept but several large local corporations are practicing similar arrangements with promising results.

First of all, let me make clear that this motion aims at drawing public attention to stress in work and life. Some might say that poverty is a more pressing issue nowadays. I fully agree and I always support actions in helping the poor. Other might think that capping the working hour would benefit workers immediately. Unfortunately, the reality is that such issue is controversial and would take time for stakeholders to reach consensus. It could hardly be put into practice right away. Therefore, I suggest promoting new occupational culture of work-life balance in priority.

Mr President, Hong Kong is a maturing economy. It is obvious that decreasing social mobility but increasing stress at the workplace is frustrating our next generation. These frustrations would eventually give rise to many social problems like drug addiction and abuse, youth dropouts, etc. If these problems were allowed to persist, they would impact on the community adversely.

Surveys have revealed that working hours are unduly long in Hong Kong. Of all trades and industries, the media is among those that are inherently long in working hours. Most frontline reporters are working 10 to 12 hours a day. For those who often stay till the 11th hour to beat stretched editorial deadline, their routine working day is further prolonged.

Moreover, frontline reporting is a job of irregular working hours and mealtime. It is not uncommon for them to suffer from occupational health hazards after working for some years.

In fact, local reporters are equally high in performance and equally long in working hours as their foreign peers in developed countries. Yet, their salaries and benefits are lagging behind. Stretched working hours and low pay are direct causes of high turnover. Hong Kong is indebted to the fourth estate for its unrelenting efforts in upholding freedom of the press and speeches. I am asking media agencies to modify duty rosters of reporters and offer them more spare time for rest and study with a view to fostering healthier development of the profession.

I now turn to the question of social mobility. Incidentally, the Chief Executive brought up this issue in his Policy Address last October. He mentioned that Hong Kong used to be a place of opportunities in the decades of 60s and 70s of the last Century. One who worked hard would stand out among equals. I cannot agree with him more. His remarks have not only inspired me to look at social mobility from a different perspective, but have also motivated me to move this debate today.

Looking back to the early years of my life, I must confess that I am one of the fortunate to start a career during these two decades of opportunities. After leaving school in the 1970s, I joined a bank as trainee. Work was tough but also rewarding with successive promotions. I must say that I was merely one of the “equals” in those good old days. The anxieties over political future in the 1980s had set off an emigration wave, leaving behind many opportunities in senior positions in large enterprises. My employer bank was no exception and I received more chances of promotion.

Unfortunately, there is a price to every accomplishment. As I had been devoted to the pursuit of career, work and life were gravely imbalanced. Apart from returning home late at night on weekdays, I often had business engagements over weekends as well. As one gets older, one would tend to miss the days spent watching their children grew up. When I try to recall them recently, I could not find too many clippings in my memories. I have to fall back on my wife to recall memento moments in the upbringing of our two sons that I might have missed owing to work. I come to realize that these experiences are real treasures in life and that there are better things in life to cherish than one’s career.

I also come to realize that if we spend more time with our families, we would enjoy more the pleasure of togetherness and help reconciling family disputes as well. For instance, the more time parents spend with children, the less likely that their children might touch drugs. Therefore, promoting work-life balance is meaningful to our next generation too.

It is obvious that social mobility is impeded by fewer opportunities. If people choose to spend most of their time in work at the expense of personal and family life, their reward would unlikely be a promising career but physical and mental exhaustion. Therefore, it would not be in the long-term interest of Hong Kong to allow such career-biased attitude to persist and cause social impairment. The purpose of my motion today is to remind all of us that man does not live to work and to encourage everybody to pay more attention to personal and family life.

When I joined a Germany corporation in 2005, I came to know the attitudes of work and life of foreigners. I have found that they pay much attention to quality of life probably because promotion prospects in a matured economy are even more limited. Apart from work, they also enjoy living, hobbies and welfare. They would search for personal interests and meaning of life. Irrespective of their career development, most people enjoy life.

In my company, several measures are introduced this year based on the principle of work-life balance. The key measure is flexible working hours. Staff is only required to stay in office from 10am to 4pm daily. They are free to come into office or to leave outside these core hours. The Management even has total freedom. It is a vote of trust by the company. It turns out that all of us still spend the same number of hours in work as before, but we may adjust the time of coming and leaving in order to meet personal and family needs. For instance, we may take time to send our children to school or bring them home, or go exercising before work, or even leave early for volunteer services.

Countries and cities around the world are paying more attention to work-life balance of the people. They have all realized the significance in striking the right balance. They are encouraging businesses to introduce measures to help employees to achieve it.

I have studied different programmes of different countries in Europe, America and Asia. I find that the Singaporean approach deserves our attention and we may borrow some ideas from its experience.

The Singapore Ministry of Manpower has established “WOW” Fund for the purpose of promoting work-life balance. All employers in Singapore including private, public and non-profit making institutions engaging five or more people are eligible to apply for subvention to introduce measures in work-life balance. According to the official website, funding is provided in two allotments up to S$10,000 each. Applicants may use it to finance 80 per cent of their programmes. This means that they might have to pay only 20 percent of its programme expense.

According to rules of the Fund, the first allotment, not exceeding S$10,000, is intended for introducing flexible working hours. Each employer may apply only once. Depending on its outcome, employers may apply for the second allotment of not exceeding S$10,000. Employers may also apply for an additional allotment up to S$90,000 for more comprehensive measures. For instance, engagement of professional consultants, purchase of necessary equipment, etc are supported. An illustration is purchase of laptop computers to allow staff to work out from office. However, these applicants are obliged to hire people who are unemployed for the past six months. All supported institutions are required to submit progress reports to the Fund for programme reviews. Moreover, the Singapore Government holds annual contests to elect the best institution in work-life balance for public recognition.

In Singapore, institutions participating in the work-life balance campaign benefit not only from receiving assistance and endorsement by the Government. They also benefit from improved productivity. Government analyses confirm that these programmes do help workers relieve personal problems and stress. In turn they positively increase staff productivity and efficiency. Official figures show that for every dollar spent in work-life balance programmes, it would yield a return of S$1.68. These programmes are definitely beneficial to both sides.

In fact, work-life balance programmes also benefit the employer, and they receive wide support in Europe and America for their mutual benefits. All in all, work-life balance would raise corporate reputation, reduce labour confrontation, attract and retain workers and help workers relieve stress. They would also raise staff morale, promote team spirit and help reduce health hazards. All this would help accomplish the ultimate goat of increasing productivity and improving work quality. Furthermore, if staff turnover could be cut down, there would be cost saving in recruitment and training.

I am asking the Government to appoint a Task Force to formulate policy and implement new occupational culture of work-life balance in Hong Kong with new thinking. We may borrow the experience of Singapore and establish a special fund to support work-life balance programmes in all industries and professions. These programmes may vary from providing care to workers and families that may suffer from psychological disturbances to supporting recreational activities and social services for workers. Meanwhile, the Government should encourage corporations to practice flexible leave policy. If workers in need are offered special leaves at memento time of life like birth, study, funerals etc, they could focus their minds on personal affairs.

Many people say that Hong Kong is so competitive that work-life balance is a luxury to most people. I beg to disagree. It is the competitiveness of our society that derives most of the family problems one way or another. And, this is precisely the cause for promoting work-life balance. I am full convinced that as long as we are determined to promote and realize these beliefs we shall look forward to a better society tomorrow.

Mr President, with these remarks, I move that the Motion as tabled before this Council be adopted.

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