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Is doing overtime a cultural norm in Hong Kong offices?

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Does your boss expect you to stay late every day? I hope not, but apparently some bosses in Hong Kong think working overtime is something employees should do – if they don’t they are considered irresponsible and bad team mates.

In a blog post shared on Hong Kong Discussion Group, a manager complained about a new joiner refusing to do overtime. In the post, she shared that the employee, a mother with a four year old son, has to leave the office at 6pm sharp to cook dinner for her son.

The manager said the employee’s behaviour has made her wary of hiring return-to-work mothers in the future, adding that the whole team, including the manager, needs to do overtime and the mother leaving on time is not fair.

The manager didn’t receive much sympathy after her blog post about having to handle a ‘bad’ employee. Instead, several respondents blasted her for being a bad boss who encourages overtime culture and called her company a toxic workplace.

“I support the mother saying no to overtime work. When bosses expect employees to stay late, it is going to make working days longer and longer,” wrote one reader of the post.

Conflicts between employees are managers over working hours are nothing new – Hongkongers don’t lead the world in working hours at 50 hours a week for nothing.

The more worrying issue for me is – has working overtime become a cultural norm in Hong Kong offices?

In February this year, Japan decided to tackle the overtime working culture by introducing the premium Friday campaign encouraging employees to leave the office at 3pm on the last Friday of each month.

The campaign has been a disaster so far, with The Japanese Times reporting only 3.7% of Tokyo area employees left work early on the last Friday in March.

There is no question working overtime in Japan is a cultural norm and nobody wants to leave on time. I believe no campaign or policies can reduce working hours without a cultural change.

Tokyo-based public relations firm Sunny Side Up even offered bonuses to push workers out of the door, but still nobody leaves. “It is not the Japanese way. In the Japanese working culture, we work so hard and work so many hours and nobody takes off early,” Ryuta Hattori, head of the company’s global communications department told the BBC.

So, it looks like we are moving towards the Japanese way, with managers having the mindset that employees who do not work overtime are bad.

Destroying this overtime culture starts from the top. Hong Kong bosses should be responsible for saving their organisations from overtime culture by taking the lead in saying no to overtime work.

Commenting on the case, Jo Hayes, Director of Pipeline Initiatives at The Women’s Foundation believes there is much work to be done in changing mindsets regarding child raising and in creating family-friendly working environments for both working parents.

For employers who are building programmes that support women returning to work after an extended break, she suggested them to look into the structure of their return-to-work programmes holistically from hiring through to retention and promotion.

“This includes, securing the endorsement of senior leaders and ensuring that their support is articulated clearly to hiring and line managers. Having clearly established rationale and metrics for success, are also key in generating a programme that is able to tap into a wider pool of talent and build a sustainable pipeline of women leaders,” she said.

ALSO READ: Why Hongkongers are lucky to work 50 hours a week

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