Work Life Balance - PDF by wanghonghx


                          Survey Results
                                September 2004

    Shalini Mahtani                                 Richard Welford
   Community Business                  Corporate Environmental Governance Programme
                                                   University of Hong Kong
www.                        www.
                                                                                                     WO R K - L I F E B A L A N C E
This report, based on a survey of 1,000 employees in Hong Kong, reveals some worrying facts
about work-life balance of the respondents. Results of a questionnaire-based survey distributed in
cooperation with Hong Kong employers and individual employees reveal the following:
• Employees in Hong Kong work very long hours:
– The average working week is 55 hours.
– 80% of people regularly work unpaid overtime.
– 75% of people work late into the evenings.
• People work late:
– 60% to get their jobs done and be more productive.
– 40% out of obligation and often work less hard because they are expected to stay late.
• Employees' health is being affected:
– Over 75% of respondents are suffering from stress and a lack of exercise.
– 45% report exhaustion and 33% depression resulting from their jobs.

• Employees are taking sick leave:
– 28% of people take sick leave simply to recover from working long hours.
• Employees think the average annual leave is insufficient:
– The average number is 19 days but people think that 23 days would be fairer.
• Work-life balance is being affected:
– Most people consider they do too much work, which detracts from their work-life balance.
– Most people are unhappy about the amount of time they spend with their family and friends.
– More people are unhappy with their jobs than are happy with them.
• Staff turnover is affected:
– 28% of people said that they would consider leaving their jobs in the next 12 months.
Statistical relationships in the data also reveal that:
• The longer the hours worked, the less happy people are with their jobs.
• People who regularly work overtime are less happy with their jobs.
• Those people who see themselves as having a work-life balance are most happy in their jobs.
• Those who are satisfied with the time they have with their family and friends are more satisfied
   with their jobs.
• The more satisfied people are with their jobs the less likely they are to leave. Those who are
   not satisfied with their jobs are more likely to leave.

                                                                                                     WO R K - L I F E B A L A N C E
Work-life balance is an integral and important part of Corporate Social Responsibility. Good
employers need to recognise that part of their obligation to their workers is to ensure that they
are not working so hard so as to damage their lives outside of work or lead to health problems.
Long hours are not just potentially damaging to the individual employee but also to the company
itself.  Companies need to understand that long hours may lead to lower motivation, morale,
turnover and productivity of employees and reputation in the labour market. Government also
must be concerned with the social impact of long hours on the labour force which will ultimately
be a burden on taxpayers in terms of higher health and related costs. There has long been a
recognition that happy employees are more productive and less likely to leave. However, the
reality in Hong Kong is that there is often an assumption amongst some employers that simply
getting staff to work longer hours will increase their work output. This report goes some way
towards challenging that notion.

A questionnaire covering aspects of work-life balance was designed, tested and then distributed in
two ways:
1. Through contacts of Community Business (e.g. their “Corporate Citizens” and their email
   database of employers and individual employees) and through companies that have been
   working closely with the Corporate Environmental Governance Programme at the University
   of Hong Kong.
2. Through “cold calling” company human resource departments and asking them to take part in
   the survey.
A copy of the questionnaire was sent out to a range of different organisations and individuals. It
was then up to them to distribute the questionnaires to their staff. Only full-time employees were
targeted. A copy of the questionnaire was also available on the Community Business website for
individuals to download. The completed questionnaires were then faxed back to the University.
We do not have figures therefore on precisely how many questionnaires were distributed.
Statistical analysis was undertaken by the Corporate Environmental Governance Programme. This
report summarises that analysis. A full analysis can be downloaded from and

                                                                                                      WO R K - L I F E B A L A N C E
The initial target was to collect responses from between 400 and 500 people. It soon became
clear that there was much enthusiasm amongst both employers and employees to get involved in
the survey. A decision was then taken to aim for 1,000 responses and to cut off any that arrived
after that, making statistical analysis much easier. In the end 1,011 valid responses were received
but the last 11 ignored. An additional 10 responses were received from part-time workers and
also discarded.
The fact that so many people were interested in completing the survey seems to indicate that
there is some concern about numbers of hours worked and work-life balance. Anecdotally we
can also say that this worry did spread to a number of employers, who were concerned that their
workers may be working excessive hours. However, results of this survey show clearly that
rhetoric on the part of employers sometimes does not match reality. In addition to the
completed surveys received, we also received a handful of emails and telephone calls from
employees complaining about the lack of work-life balance in the workplace.   The nature of this
communication has not been considered in this report.

Figure 1 shows the distribution of responses from different sectors. The predetermined
categories that we set caught most of the responses. The 4% Others category included teachers
in non-government schools and some self-employed people.  

                              Figure 1: Distribution of responses
                                                         Oil, Energy,
                        Law, Accountancy,                Resources & Utilities
                        Professional Services            7%
                         Government                                  Transportation &
                         7%                                          Infrastructure

                         17%                                         Wholesale,
                                                                     Retailing & Trade
                              Real Estate
                                   Manufacturing     Telecommunication, Media &
                                   6%                Information Services

                                                                                                                                                                                                                           WO R K - L I F E B A L A N C E

  Working Hours
  Figure 2 reveals that the average working week for those people included in this study was slightly over 55
  hours. However, the range of working hours spanned from 47.2 for Government employees to 59.6 for
  those in Financial Services. International Labour Office (ILO) conventions suggest a working week of 40
  hours (with additional occasional overtime of up to 12 hours paid at a premium).

  Figure 3 shows that on average almost 80% of Hong Kong workers are regularly working unpaid overtime
  (ranging from 40.5% of Government employees to 92.6% in Financial Services). The fact that this overtime
  is both regular and unpaid should be a matter of concern for companies who consider themselves to have
  good human resource policies.

                    Figure 2: Average working hours per week                                                                              Figure 3: Regularly working unpaid overtime
               Financial Services                                                                 59.6                                 Financial Services                                                           92.6
                                                                                                                           Construction, Transportation &
                   Manufacturing                                                                  59.5                                      Infrastructure                                                         90.3
 Construction, Transportation &                                                                                           Law, Accountancy, Professional
                                                                                                 57.8                                                                                                             89.5
                  Infrastructure                                                                                                                 Services
Law, Accountancy, Professional                                                                   57.2                    Oil, Energy, Resources & Utilities                                                 84.7
                    Real Estate                                                                 56.5                                             Real Estate                                                84.4
  Telecommunication, Media &                                                                                                 Telecommunication, Media &
           Information Services                                                                55.7                                                                                                        81.6
                                                                                                                                    Information Services
Oil, Energy, Resources & Utilities                                                             54.9                                       Manufacturing                                                79.7
    Wholesale, Retailing & Trade                                                        49.8                                                         Others                                    66.7

                           Others                                                      48.4                                 Wholesale, Retailing & Trade                                      64.1

                     Government                                                    47.2                                                          Government                      40.5

                All respondents #                                                              55.2                                       All respondents#                                             79.6

                                     0   10        20        30        40          50           60         70                                                    0         20   40      60            80             100
                                                                Hours                                                                                                            Percentage

  Regularly working late in the evening is something else that is very common in Hong Kong as Figure 4
  reveals. Almost 75% of respondents stay at work late and this ranges from 32.4% for Government
  employees to 86.9% for those in Financial Services.

                                                           Figure 4: Regularly working late into the evening
                                                             Financial Services                                                                              86.9

                                                                  Real Estate                                                                              84.4
                                               Law, Accountancy, Professional
                                                                    Services                                                                               83.2
                                                              Manufacturing                                                                               81.4
                                                Construction, Transportation &
                                                                 Infrastructure                                                                           81.2
                                                 Telecommunication, Media &
                                                          Information Services                                                                       78.2

                                              Oil, Energy, Resources & Utilities                                                                   75.0

                                                  Wholesale, Retailing & Trade                                                            62.9
                                                                         Others                                                    55.6
                                                                   Government                                   32.4

                                                              All respondents#                                                                     74.2

                                                                                   0                  20            40             60               80               100


  #   “All respondents” reflects the mean of the total population not the mean of the individual sector.

                                                                                                                                                     WO R K - L I F E B A L A N C E
Working Hours
Respondents were asked for their reasons for working late. Figure 5 shows that almost 82% did so simply
because they had too much work to do and almost 35% said that they did so in order to support co-
workers. More troubling, in some respects, however, is a culture of simply having to stay late for reasons
such as “I cannot leave before my boss” (29.4%) and “I cannot be the first to leave the office” (22.9%).
8.3% felt that staying late was the only way to get promotion. In drafting the survey we had thought that
perhaps people stayed late because they enjoyed their work or because they simply did not want to go
home (e.g. because of crowded apartments). However, responses to these two elements were only 7.2%
and 1.6% respectively.

                                              Figure 5: Reasons for regularly working late
                                      Too much work                                                                           81.9

                                  Support co-workers                                            34.6

                        Cannot leave before my boss                                      29.4

                        Cannot be first to leave office                           22.9

                                               Others                 10.5

                        The only way to get promotion                8.3

                                             I enjoy it             7.2

                              Don't want to go home           1.6

                                                          0         10       20     30          40     50     60    70   80      90

The survey also asked for the reason for working unpaid overtime (see Figure 6). 60% of respondents said
that they worked overtime to finish all their work and be more productive. However, 21.4% said that they
did it because it was expected but that they did not always work during that period. 18.7% went further in
saying that they felt resentment at being expected to work long hours and that they did not work so hard
because of this. Thus a rather naive expectation (but not an uncommon one in Hong Kong) that working
long hours leads to more work being done is not the perception of at least 40% of those surveyed.
Working late at work might in some circumstances be compensated for if companies have flexible work
schemes in place. However, Figure 7 shows that only 36.4% of companies do operate such a scheme.

    Figure 6: Reasons for working unpaid overtime                                                      Figure 7: Does your company allow flexible
                                                                                                                 working hours to compensate for
                                                                                                                 working late?

      18.7%                            I work long hours in order to
                                       finish all my work and be
                                       more productive                                                                                         No
                                       I work long hours because it
                                       is expected but I do not                                             36.4%                              Yes
                                       always work when I stay late
                                       I feel resentment at working
                                       long hours so do not work as
                                       hard as I could

                                                                                                                                                                                                WO R K - L I F E B A L A N C E
Health Effects
Our research was also interested in the impacts that working late had on employees’ well-being. Our initial
view was that working long hours on a regular basis must have an impact on various aspects of employees’
health. Indeed, responses in Figure 8 confirmed our hypotheses to an alarming rate. 76.1% of respondents
said they suffered from stress and 74.9% from lack of exercise. Figure 8 also shows other health impacts
including exhaustion (45.4%), a poor diet (42.1%), depression (33.3%) and insomnia (21.7%). Other health
effects included bad backs, shoulders and repetitive strain injury.
Since we know that issues such as stress and lack of exercise are commonly associated with heart disease*
and strokes, it seems that amongst many workers there is a serious problem building up in their lives.

                                  Figure 8: Health effects due to working long hours on a regular basis

                                                             Stress                                                                    76.1

                                                    Lack of exercise                                                                  74.9

                                                         Exhaustion                                               45.4

                                                           Poor diet                                           42.1

                                                         Depression                                  33.3

                                                           Insomnia                           27.6

                                                 General poor health                   21.7

                                                             Others        8.7

                                                                      0   10      20          30          40          50    60   70     80

Sick Leave

In order to combat the health effects of their jobs many people may be taking sick leave. Figure 9 shows
that 28% of respondents take sick leave simply to recover from working long hours. Of those taking
sick leave because of long hours, the average per year is 4 days. However, a number of respondents
admitted taking in excess of 10 days each year.  Sick leave is a cost to companies and employers need to be
conscious that long working hours is having an adverse impact on their bottom line.

                                Figure 9: Do you ever take sick leave to recover from working long hours?



                                                                                                                           Those who responded “Yes”:
                                                                                                                           Average number of days:
                                                                                                                           4 days per year

* The research “Current Perspectives on Health and Physical Activity in Hong Kong: A Review” reveals that daily exercise can help prevent some chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetics,
hypertension, strokes, obesity, osteoporosis and some cancers. The research was undertaken by Dr. Stanley Sai-Chuen Hui of the Chinese University of Hong Kong in January 2004.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              WO R K - L I F E B A L A N C E
 Annual Leave                                                                                                                  Figure 10: Annual leave per year
 Figure 10 provides data on annual leave                                                    Law, Accountancy, Professional
                                                                                                                   Services                                                               20.7
 amongst the respondents. They were asked                                                                Financial Services

                                                                                             Construction, Transportation &
 to state how many days leave per year they
                                                                                                              Infrastructure                                                       18.9
                                                                                                             Manufacturing                                                                      22.3

 received and then how many they thought                                                      Wholesale, Retailing & Trade

 would be fair. Across the whole survey the                                              Oil, Energy, Resources & Utilities                                               17.5
                                                                                                                                                                                           21.5             fair
 average annual leave was 18.7 days. The                                                                             Others
                                                                                                               Real Estate
 highest annual leave was found in                                                             Telecommunication, Media &
                                                                                                      Information Services                                            15.5

 Government (23.9 days) and the lowest was
                                                                                                          All respondents #
 in Telecommunication, Media and Information                                                                                                                                      18.7

                                                                                                                               0            5    10              15                20                  25            30
 Services (15.5 days).                                                                                                                                       Days

It is interesting to note that in all sectors people received less than the leave that was considered fair.
Although 18.7 days leave was the mean across the survey, respondents thought that 22.6 days would be fair.

Work-life Balance

Respondents were asked to rate their work-life balance on a five point scale (1. Too much work;
2. A little too much work; 3. My life is very balanced; 4. A little too much leisure time; 5. Too much leisure
time). Therefore a score of 3 would be representative of a good work-life balance whilst scores significantly
lower than that would relate to work impinging on a good balance (see Figure 11). The vast majority of
individual respondents scored their situation below 3 although there were some scores of 3 and above.
Overall the score is slightly under 2 meaning that people do consider they have too much work and this
detracts from their work-life balance. The highest score was 2.5 in Government and the lowest was 1.78
scored in both Financial Services, and Construction, Transport and Infrastructure.
The questionnaire went on to examine satisfaction with the amount of time spent with family and friends
(Figure 12). The five point scale ran from very unsatisfied to very satisfied with a score of 3 being neutral
(neither satisfied nor unsatisfied in effect). A good work-life balance ought to be associated with scores
significantly above 3. However overall the score was 2.43 and only in two sectors (Government and
Others) was a score above 3 achieved. The lowest score of 2.15 was found in Financial Services.

                                         Figure 11: Work-life balance                                              Figure 12: Satisfaction with the amount of time
                                                                                                                              spent with family and friends
                     Government                                2.50
                                                                                                                            Government                                             3.16
                           Others                         2.33
                                                                                                                                   Others                                         3.08
     Wholesale, Retailing & Trade                       2.12
                                                                                                                          Manufacturing                            2.58
                      Real Estate                      2.11                                                                                                       2.56
                                                                                                           Wholesale, Retailing & Trade
                   Manufacturing                       2.10                                                                                                      2.47
                                                                                                                              Real Estate
Oil, Energy, Resources & Utilities                    2.06                                                                                                       2.46
                                                                                                       Oil, Energy, Resources & Utilities
     Telecommunication, Media &
             Information Services                     2.05                                                  Telecommunication, Media &                           2.44
                                                                                                                    Information Services
 Law, Accountancy, Professional                                                                           Construction, Transportation &
                                                 1.81                                                                                                      2.23
               Financial Services               1.78                                                    Law, Accountancy, Professional                    2.17
  Construction, Transportation &                                                                                                                          2.15
                                                1.78                                                                  Financial Services

                All respondents #                  1.99                                                                All respondents #                         2.43

                                     1            2                   3    4            5                                                   1         2                      3                         4                  5
                                           1-Too much work ; 5-Too much leisure time                                                            1-Very Unsatisfied ; 5-Very Satisfied

 #   “All respondents” reflects the mean of the total population not the mean of the individual sector.

                                                                                                                                                              WO R K - L I F E B A L A N C E
Employee Happiness with Work
Overall happiness with the respondents’ jobs were also ranked on a five-point scale ranging from very
unhappy to very happy with a score of 3 being neutral again (Figure 13). Scores under 3 mean unhappiness
with jobs and the overall score for all respondents was 2.97. In four sectors scores were above 3 and in
six sectors they were under 3. The lowest score was 2.73 in Real Estate. There is a clustering of answers
around the neutral which conceals the wide variation in individual answers to this question.

                                                                              Figure 13: Happiness with job

                                                                  Others                                                         3.69
                                                            Government                                                    3.30
                                                          Manufacturing                                             3.08
                                          Telecommunication, Media &
                                                   Information Services
                                         Construction, Transportation &
                                       Oil, Energy, Resources & Utilities                                       2.97

                                           Wholesale, Retailing & Trade                                        2.94
                                        Law, Accountancy, Professional
                                                      Financial Services                                 2.74

                                                             Real Estate                                 2.73

                                                      All respondents #                                         2.97

                                                                          1             2                      3                     4                   5

                                                                                        1-Very Unhappy ; 5-Very Happy

Staff Turnover

The final question asked whether respondents are considering leaving their jobs in the next 12 months
(this does not mean that they actually would). 28.2% of them said that they would be considering leaving
their jobs in the coming year. This is much higher than one would normally expect and if even half of
these people did what they were considering, it would cause major problems in some sectors and would
be a large cost to businesses affected. The highest percentage occurs in the Real Estate sector where
35.6% were considering leaving their jobs. The lowest in the category Government (16.2%) and in Others

                                                    Figure 14: Considering leaving job in the next 12 months

                                                            Real Estate                                                                           35.6
                                     Oil, Energy, Resources & Utilities                                                                          34.7
                                                     Financial Services                                                                         34.1
                                      Law, Accountancy, Professional
                                        Wholesale, Retailing & Trade                                                                    30.0
                                         Telecommunication, Media &
                                                  Information Services
                                        Construction, Transportation &
                                                        Manufacturing                                                22.0
                                                           Government                                  16.2
                                                                Others                      11.1

                                                     All respondents #                                                             28.2

                                                                          0            10                 20                       30                    40


#   “All respondents” reflects the mean of the total population not the mean of the individual sector.

                                                                                                          WO R K - L I F E B A L A N C E
One aim of the research was to seek to explore the factors that contributed to or detracted from
how happy people were with their jobs and then, in turn, to ascertain whether there was a link
between that happiness and a consideration of whether to leave jobs in the following 12 months.
Here we begin by examining relationships between hours worked, unpaid overtime worked,
working regularly in the evening, work-life balance, time spent with family and friends, and the
rating of how happy people are with their jobs.
1. Hours worked and happiness with job
The respondents’ degree of happiness is statistically dependent upon the number of hours of work
of the respondents. The longer the respondents’ working week, the less they are happy with
their jobs.

2. Unpaid overtime and happiness with job
There is a statistically significant relationship between the respondents’ regularity of doing unpaid
overtime work and their rating of happiness with their jobs. Respondents who regularly work
unpaid overtime are less happy than those who do not.
3. Regularly work in the evening and happiness with job
There is a statistically significant relationship between the respondents’ regularity of working late
into the evening and their rating of happiness with their jobs. Respondents who regularly work
late into the evening are less happy than those who do not.
4. Work-life balance and happiness with job
There is a statistically significant relationship between the respondents’ rating of their work-life
balance and their rating of happiness with their jobs. The result shows that the more they are
happy with their work-life balance, the more they are happy with their jobs.
5. Time spent with family and friends and happiness with job
There is a statistically significant relationship between the respondents’ satisfaction with the
amount of time they spend with their family and friends and their rating of happiness with their
jobs. The result shows that the more the people are satisfied with the amount of time they spend
with their family, the more happy they are with their jobs.
6.  Happiness with job and considering leaving job in the next 12 months
There is a statistically significant relationship between the respondents’ satisfaction with their jobs
and their tendency to leave their jobs in the next 12 months. The more they are satisfied with
their jobs, the less they consider leaving their jobs in the next 12 months. 

                                                                                                       WO R K - L I F E B A L A N C E

This survey has revealed some worrying working practices in Hong Kong. The practices of some
employers in allowing their workers to spend so long at work is out of line with international
conventions and general good employment practices. Some industries such as Financial Services
are worse than others. However, overall we have also uncovered evidence that such employment
practices are also damaging the health of employees. That in itself is a worrying trend but it
should also be even more worrying to employers in the light of recent litigation for health
problems caused at work in other countries. This problem of long working hours and its
effect on health has a potentially large impact, not only for employees and employers
but also for taxpayers who will have to finance this burden of unhealthy individuals in
the years ahead.

What is also clear from this research is that some employees are working unnecessarily long
hours. The culture of having to stay late in the office, not being seen to be the first to leave and
not leaving before the boss is outdated, destructive and immature. However, the practice is not
uncommon. Many of the workers finding themselves in this situation do not work harder and
some even admit to working less hard because they resent the imposition of such long working

A large number of people are considering leaving their jobs in the next 12 months. Indeed that
statistic is so high that if they did so some Hong Kong businesses would grind to a
halt. We have shown in our research that the less happy people are with their jobs, the more
they are likely to be considering leaving. Therefore it is important that we identify the
reasons why people are satisfied or dissatisfied with their current employments.
People working long hours, working unpaid overtime and working late into the evening are
unhappy. Those who consider that their work-life balance is good and have the time to spend
with family and friends are much happier.
Employers in Hong Kong need to understand that long working hours and a lack of
work-life balance for employees have an adverse effect on business.  Long working
hours and a lack of work-life balance affect staff turnover, employee happiness with
work, employee health and sick leave- all of which are a cost to business and bad for
the financial bottom line.
The results of our research are not surprising and confirm what most human resource managers
and good employers know already. If you want staff to be happy and productive and reduce staff
turnover, then it is important to have good employment practices associated with work-life
balance. With this in mind, why therefore, do we see much of Hong Kong business not heeding
such advice?

                                                                                                         WO R K - L I F E B A L A N C E

                               Corporate Environmental Governance Programme was launched by the
                               University of Hong Kong in 2002 and is dedicated to the promotion of
                               effective Corporate Governance among companies in Asia.  Staff carry
out research and consultancy studies, training activities and organise seminars and conferences.   The
programme recently launched a Masters degree in Corporate Environmental Governance (full and part
time).  Please visit
Richard Welford is running the new Masters programme and is the author of many recent studies on
environmental and social issues in Asia. He can be contacted at
                        Community Business works closely with businesses in Corporate Social
Responsibility. We are a unique non-profit organisation in Hong Kong whose mission is to lead, inspire
and support businesses to continually improve their positive impact on people and communities. We
focus on two specific areas of Corporate Social Responsibility: Corporate Community Investment and
Workplace Issues. Community Business assists its “Corporate Citizens”, or member companies, to
develop and implement policies and programmes, measurement tools and training in these areas. We
also provide a forum for like-minded businesses to learn from and share experiences with one another.
Please visit

Shalini Mahtani is CEO of Community Business and can be contacted at

The authors would like to thank Bonnie Pun da Rosa and Tracey Robertson, volunteers of Community
Business and Stephen Frost of the City University of Hong Kong for helping with data collection. Thank
you also to Teresa Tam-Schroeder, Head of Projects of Community Business for editing and producing
this publication.

All information provided in this document is intended for general information purposes only and is not
in the nature of advice. The University of Hong Kong and Community Business Limited reserve the
right to make alterations to any of their documents without notice.  Reproduction and dissemination of
this document is permitted provided that the document is unaltered and ownership is acknowledged. 
Express permission is required from both authors for use of this document (in whole or part) if such
use will generate income for the licensee.


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