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TALKING POINTS

The Work-life Equation

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Our columnist believes achieving a healthy work-life balance will benefit both employers and employees.

By Anthony Wong

It’s official: Hongkongers have no lives. Each employed person in our city works on average 50.11 hours a week, the longest hours in the world, according to UBS’ annual “Prices and Earnings” study. It’s something that we all probably knew, but it’s depressing when it’s official. As a result, it’s time to start reassessing our priorities and try to achieve the elusive “work-life balance” that we all desperately need. Here are some ways we can get started:

1. Flying under the radar
The Harvard Business Review published a study that canvassed 100 employees working at an elite consulting agency. The result showed that the best way to achieve a good performance review while having a work-life balance is to avoid explicitly asking for time off. Build alliances with teammates and cover each other when you need time off at home. Another solution is to strategically schedule client meetings in a way that doesn't require you to go into the office. The point to remember is getting the time you need without bringing attention to yourself.

2. Shorter work hours and more time off
This is a no brainer. Just look at Germany, where workers put in an average of 35 hours a week and have an average of 24 paid vacation days; the workforce is still able to support Europe’s strongest economy while having the time to tan in Thailand and drink tall, massive beers. Some companies these days are even radical enough to allow a full month holiday for their employees. Just like bears, people need to hibernate too.

3. Enforced hours
One prominent Hong Kong telecommunications company has recently shortened their work hours from 9am-6pm to 9am-5pm, and they make sure managers abide by those new rules. No meetings can run past 5pm and Friday meetings must be scheduled before the afternoon to ensure people leave on time and make it to happy hour.

4. Be selfish, set boundaries and pursue “me” time.
When it’s crunch time, overtime is important. However, when there are no pressing matters, make sure you set boundaries with your boss. Say no to unnecessary emails and phone calls after work and make sure to leave on time to pursue more important things like going to the gym or meeting your friends at the new hip restaurant.

5. Work from home
Businesses in Hong Kong are extremely concentrated in the Central and Western District, but a majority of the city's population lives in Kowloon and the New Territories. Permitting employees a certain number of days a month to work from home can eliminate the time and mental anguish of a long, crowded commute and allows them, especially those with families, more personal time to send their children off to school or take an elderly relative to see the doctor. Let’s FaceTime and not face time.

6. Make yourself heard
We can’t assume that our bosses know that we’re on the verge of a mental breakdown, so it’s our responsibility to keep an open line of communication with them. If you know you’re valuable and if your employers are reasonable, present your case for a more flexible work arrangement. The initial solution might not be the most desired, but keep the conversation going until both parties come to an acceptable agreement. But if there is no suitable compromise, at least you've put in your efforts and know that it could be time to start looking for a company that does fit your needs.

7. Freelance
Be a maverick, be your own boss and manage your own time. It might get lonely at times, but least you’re in the driver’s seat. Working out of a café ensures you’ll be properly caffeinated.

Anthony Wong is editor at Human Resources Magazine, overseeing content for its print, online and social media platforms. Prior to joining Lighthouse Independent Media, Wong spent seven years as a senior reporter for South China Morning Post, reporting on the local job market and education. 

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