Hong Kong and Working Hours

To continue yesterday’s theme, here’s another example of how Hong Kong is not aligned with the rest of the industrialized world. Hong Kong’s CEO, Donald Tsang, has proposed that the civil service go to a five day week and extend the workday by 30 minutes. Previously, civil servants worked a half day on Saturday, putting in a 44 hour week. This proposal would cut the work week to 42.5 hours. The issue has raised the question of whether private industry would follow the government’s lead.

Some pundits immediately issued doom and gloom statements about how Hong Kong would lose its competitiveness. I had to chuckle at that. First, most multi-nationals went to a five day week years ago, some extending the workday, some just going to a 40 hour week. One company, I’m very familiar with, Mattel Toys, went to a five day work week 25 years ago.

Second, most employees in Hong Kong work much longer hours as it is. The work ethic is such that many people consider themselves lucky if they leave their offices by 7:00 PM. In the retail sector, most stores and shops are open 72- 84 hours a week and that includes the owner operated shops. The torturers, refurbishing the flat above mine, work from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM six days a week and are up there for at least 6 hours on Sunday. That’s a 62.5 hour week taking lunch time into account. These are laborers not executives.

My advice to employers, stolen from Nike, is “Just do it.” The increase in productivity, the decrease in Saturday afternoon crowded conditions and the Chinese work ethic will more than overcome whatever competitive disadvantage you think you might endure.