Breaktime’s Over

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Hong Kong’s inaugural Work-Life Balance Day, which took place last Friday, was a fabulous piece of tokenism. The organizer, a nonprofit CSR body known as Community Business, is decent and well meaning. It’s just that a mere 115 companies, among the thousands of enterprises in Hong Kong, signed up to participate. This, apparently, is what they agreed to do:

  • 53 companies deigned to let employees leave by 7pm, which is simply another way of saying that they would not require their staff work unpaid overtime that night;
  • 25 agreed to “encourage” their staff, no doubt pasty and enfeebled from years of sedentary drudgery, to take an hour off for exercise during the day (considering Hong Kong’s hazardous smog levels, I hope this took place indoors);
  • 55 provided “healthy snacks” for their workers, as though the arterial damage caused by all those pizzas and lunchboxes that were consumed while deskbound, on a deadline, could be undone by the simple eating of an apple;
  • 19 companies encouraged staff to bring family members to work for lunch or a tour of the office; and
  • 24 undertook to hold a work-life balance seminar for employees, which no doubt robbed those employees of a precious free lunch hour

You wouldn’t have thought it, but Hong Kong has actually made gains in the area of work-life balance. A survey by the University of Hong Kong and CSR Asia earlier this year found that “employees now work 5 hours a week less” compared to 2004 and that “there has been a significant reduction in people working overtime and working late into the evening on a regular basis” (also compared to 2004). The global financial crisis will almost certainly change all that though. Employees who get laid off will have plenty of time for life, while those still in work will doubtless chain themselves to their desks in ever intensifying efforts to prove their indispensability.