Passage 1Professor Chiu, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am most honored to be invited to address this forum. First of all, I must thank the Hong Kong Baptist University and the Hong Kong Institute of Directors for organizing this important and meaningful event. I deeply appreciate their passion for promoting the building of happy companies that employ happy staff.
Let me start by presenting to you a broad-brush picture of the current employment market, which provides the context for the management of our human resources. I will then highlight the importance of work-life balance and how we can translate this concept into effective measures to attract and retain talents.
Our employment market has been as buoyant as ever. The upbeat employment market inevitably leads to intense competition for talents and a surge in staff turnover. The surge in turnover and the vacancy rates have brought great challenges to employers and human resource professionals in staff recruitment and retention, and I believe that many of you have been actively reviewing remuneration packages and devising proactive strategies to attract and retain talents. A higher salary package or better fringe benefits will surely attract more job applicants. However, this may not be sufficient to retain talents.
In fact, as society advances, our employees are not only concerned about their material well-being. They also aspire to attain a balanced life so that they can have sufficient time to take care of their various needs. To help employees achieve work-life balance has become an increasingly important staff retention strategy.
Work-life balance is apparently an easy-to-understand concept. It can be defined as a state of well-being that allows people to manage effectively multiple responsibilities at work, at home and in their community. People who achieve work-life balance feel happy and are more satisfied with their work and lives, because they can discharge effectively their responsibilities under different roles. On the other hand, people who lead an unbalanced life may suffer from burnout, and fail to competently handle their various life tasks.
Hong Kong employees are renowned for their hard work and our traditional culture highly values diligence and resilience. Many people work very long hours to cope with their heavy workload and to meet the high expectation of their employers. However, working long hours may not necessarily bring about an increase in productivity. Some studies have confirmed that working too long hours is hazardous to the physical and mental health of the employees. A research conducted by the University of Massachusetts found that workers with regular overtime were 61% more likely to become hurt or ill. And working more than 12 hours a day raised the risk by more than one-third.
Moreover, there is considerable evidence that extended hours of work are linked to health problems such as high blood pressure, heart problems, gastrointestinal disorders as well as psychological problems. In short, the more hours they work, the greater the risk of injury and illness, and the lower the motivation and productivity of the employees. This is the law of diminishing returns.
On the other hand, if employers assist their employees to attain work-life balance, both parties will gain substantive benefits, creating a win-win situation.
The government, as the largest employer in Hong Kong, has set up a similar service for its employees since 1999. It commissioned a third party agency to provide free counseling service to government employees. The scope of service includes telephone and face-to-face counseling service as well as referral to appropriate professional bodies. Feedback from employees is very positive.
To help employees achieve work-life balance, another useful strategy is the five-day work week, which helps to boost staff morale and improve the quality of their family life while at the same time save the operating costs of the employers. As you know, the government has taken the lead to implement this initiative in two phases since July 2006. I must say that since its implementation, there has been no loss of productivity, nor any additional expenditure incurred. On the other hand, there has been an obvious improvement in staff morale and motivation. I have reason to believe that the fertility rate of female civil servants has also gone up! I am pleased to note that more and more employers in the private sector are following suit.
The government is committed to helping the public understand the concept of work-life balance. The Labor Department promotes enlightened employment practices to employers and human resources managers as well as encourages the adoption of these practices in the workplace. In addition, the department attaches great importance to the occupational health of all employees, and strives to raise their safety and health awareness through multifarious publicity and promotional activities. We are vigorously promoting exercise at work and management of work stress. On exercise, the department has published a set of video discs and booklet entitled More Exercise, Smart Work to introduce simple exercises that could be done readily in the office to relax different parts of the body. On work stress, the department has published a pamphlet named Work and Stress to introduce the common sources and effects of work stress as well as effective measures for its prevention. All these publications and the video discs can be obtained free of charge from the department or downloaded from the department's homepage. Between 2003 and 2007, more than 90,000 copies of these publications were distributed.
Given the joint efforts of the government and organizations concerned, I am fully confident that more and more employers will soon realize the importance of helping their staff achieve work-life balance. I must reiterate that the adoption of work-life balance brings about a win-win scenario for both employers and employees. It is an investment that guarantees handsome dividends. As employees have a balanced life, they work happily and productively. Employers can recruit and retain the best employees. I would therefore like to make use of this occasion to request you, as employers, directors or human resources professionals, to join hands with us in promoting work-life balance with a view to creating a happy and vibrant workforce in Hong Kong.