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Are 50-hour work weeks really necessary?

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Hong Kong recently topped the list of the longest working hours in the world, with 50-hour weeks and a statutory minimum of only seven days paid annual leave. Is it time for a change?

There’s often a perception in Asia that employees in Europe barely ever work. Having grown up in the Netherlands, I can confirm that we’re no stranger to the idea there can be more important things in life than being at the office. And that taking time off is healthy and good for you.

As a result, Dutch employees are offered a minimum of 20 days paid annual leave and 46.9% of the population works part-time, putting in less than 35 hours a week.

Where in Asia, working long hours can be seen as a status symbol, the Dutch, in turn, tend to be proud of their flexible office culture which allows them to spend time with family, friends and practising hobbies.

Of course, taking time off means spending less time at work, which to many Hong Kong employers doesn’t seem like an ideal scenario. But could the working hours you lose be made up for by heightened engagement?

A considerable amount of research points towards the detrimental effects of overworked employees. Spending too much time at work can lead to lower overall productivity, as staff become less efficient and less engaged.

For HR practitioners in Hong Kong, the challenge lies with finding the right balance between time spent in – and outside of the office.

Helpful to keep in mind is that a disengaged employee can spend 50 hours in the office, yet achieve less than a motivated co-worker who leaves after only 40. Spending time at work doesn’t always equal doing work.

Since employees place great value on their leave allowance, even if they don’t take the full amount, this is an area that can help drive motivation.

Offering a few extra leave days or some more flexible working hours can create a lot of goodwill. By asking just a little less of your staff, you might find they will give you back more in return.

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Laura Fransen

Human Resources Magazine Hong Kong
As a member of the Human Resources editorial team, Laura spends her days reading and writing about the latest local and international HR developments. A recent arrival in Hong Kong, she's constantly exploring local culture and customs - both in and outside of the office.

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