Just recently it was that I had a gathering with my college friends. We shared our most recent working experiences and a topic we all ponder about once in a while; the purpose of life. This led us to another issue that had been concerning us for a while now: the work-life balance of a friend of ours who had been absent all the past times we met. He studied accountancy when he was an undergraduate student and then started working as an auditor in an accounting firm.
Being an auditor in Hong Kong is a really tough profession. Working overtime is a must for this industry. I read an article about the daily working schedule of auditors that claims they need to work for 16 hours per day during the peak session. Some of them don’t even have time to take a shower at home! Let alone meet up with friends…
What is life worth if you have to work like a slave? Is this inhumane treatment the only possible working style in Hong Kong? What is the true value of our career? This is what the new generation in Hong Kong, anyone born during the 90s keeps on wondering about.
According to a survey conducted by UBS, Hong Kong has the longest working week of 71 cities worldwide. Hong Kong employees have to work 50.1 hours per week, ranking the city first among the 71 cities assessed.
Hong Kong working hours exceed the global average of 36.5 hours weekly by 38%, meaning they have to work an additional third of their spare time instead of having leasure time to recover and enjoy the money they earned.
Over-time working is essential for all jobs levels across industries in Hong Kong. This characteristic can be regarded as the continuation of the “Spirit of Lion Rock”. (The Lion Rock is one of the famous mountains and landmarks in Hong Kong.)
This spirit is one of the core values in Hong Kong from generations to generations. It emphasizes “perseverance and solidarity and encourages Hong Kong citizens to work hard in order to overcome different obstacles.” A rapid economic development and expansion was achieved in the late 1970s by this spirit. Hong Kong managed to transform into an international financial centre because of the perseverance, strong will and hard work of Hong Kong citizens.
Nevertheless, the time has passed and a lot has changed. Working hard can no longer even earn a living in Hong Kong nowadays. According to the data provided by the Census and Statistics Department, the salaries of Hong Kong’s university graduates dropped 20 per cent in the last 20 years. Just imagine: A salary drops whereas one would expect salaries to go up with time to balance out the rates of inflation! (Despite five years of low deflation from approx. 1999 to 2004, Hong Kong experienced steady inflation that at times reached even up to 10%)
The average monthly salary for fresh graduates in 1993 was HKD$ 13,158, but had dropped to HKD$ 10,860 in 2013. In 2016, there was a slight increase in the monthly salary of fresh graduates. Normally, HKD$ 13 000 is the typical starting salary for a recent graduate.
However, the rent of flat in Hong Kong is extremely high in contrast to monthly salary. The monthly rent of a flat (approx. 500ft2) exceeds HKD$ 10,000! Housing is simply unreasonably expensive! After spending all the time working, Hong Kong employees’ basic housing need can hardly be satisfied. The “Spirit of Lion Rock” has turned from a motivational proverb to become a simple excuse for employers to increase work pressure on employees.
Facing this plight, questioning the true value of one’s career does not come as a surprise. We all know that it is not only the career that should determine one’s whole life. Working is just one of its major components.
The misery of the work-life balance and unaffordable housing prices often makes us regard the job and our career as life in its entirety. The role of work crossed a boundary which moved us into psychological depression. We lose our families, friends and hobbies but gain nothing.
We try very hard to change our mindsets but are deterred by the majority and an insurmountable reality of work life in Hong Kong. To survive in this fast and stressful environment, assimilation is unavoidable and working to live has become working to work gradually.
Nevertheless, if you really want to escape from this horrible working environment, you have to be willing to change and stand firm. Well, and after discussing for a while we concluded that having a good work-life balance is rare but we refuse to call it unattainable in Hong Kong.
On Tik Leung
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