Are we really workaholics?

"As the sun goes down across Asia, lights in the office towers remain lit as workers stay glued to their desks well after the normal nine-to-five. Even at home or worse still - on holiday - it seems the continent's workaholics cannot switch off."

This is the beginning of a recent BBC article about the Asian workforce.

Based on my own experience and my understanding of the Hong Kong workforce, I can testify to the truth of the statements.

The following statistics about Hong Kong, quoted by the article from a recent survey, paint a grim picture for the employees:

  • 77% of Hong Kong employees tune into work out of office hours and even on holiday, higher than the Asian average of 66%.
  • Over 90% of Hong Kong employers expect their employees to be available and connected during their holiday period. (In comparison, only 6% of employers in New Zealand expect their staff to be available out of office hours.)
  • Around 25% of the 1600 executives polled across Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand confessed that they found it impossible to switch off on holiday. Sixty six percent believed they should be available in case of an emergency, while 60% said filtering through work emails while they're away is a way to ensure less stress when returning to the office.
I remember well what happened during my last two trips. For over ten hours during the flight to New York in April, I had to edit a report with my laptop (thanks to the power supply available on Cathay Pacific planes). It was my wife's turn to have to complete an office task when we flew to Denmark for our holiday a couple of weeks ago, but on a Thai Airways plane, there was no such luxury of power supply and she was forced to abandon the task after the laptop battery ran out and continue after we got to Copenhagen. As for myself, I had to check my work emails from time to time during the trip. Even so, I had to spend a good part of the day clearing the emails when I got back to the office.

So the above statistics paint a true, albeit glum, picture about the situation of Hong Kong employees. However, I find the title of the BBC article, "Can Asian workaholics be persuaded to take a holiday?" quite misleading. Both the word "workaholics" and the question itself imply that working long hours and during the holidays is our choice and even an addiction. I dare say that, for most of us, nothing is further from the truth. At I am writing this, and it is 11:04 pm, my wife is still not home from work. How can this possibly be her choice?

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