Survey on Overtime Work in Hong Kong
This study aims at finding out the state of overtime (OT) work in Hong Kong, and to explore its implications on industrial-organizational concerns like work-life balance and the restriction of working hours.
Overall OT and working hours
OT seems to be quite common in Hong Kong. Half (49%) of the people surveyed have done some OT work during the 7 days before interviewed.
Among those who had done OT, the median OT hours in the past 7 days is 6 hours. The median number of days in a month in which they work OT is 8 days.
The average number of working hours per week for those who had not worked OT in the past 7 days is 48 hours. For those who had worked OT, the average is 54 hour. Compared with these numbers, the official statistics for the whole population is 49 hours per week. The two sets of figures are very close and this adds reliability to our study.
Variation in the amount of OT work
The average figures mask the great variation in the length of the working hours among the workers. When the whole sample is divided into three groups according to the amount of OT they have done, it was found that people in the High OT group (top 25%) work 76% of OT hours in the past 7 days with a median 10 hours, the Middle group (middle 50%) 24% with a median 4 hours and the Low group (bottom 25%) none.
Is OT a concern? Is it acceptable?
Given these figures, we ask whether OT is a serious issue. There are many ways to address this question. One way to find out whether workers find the amount of OT they do acceptable. Our findings in this survey is that people in general found the amount of OT they did acceptable. This is true not only of the Low OT group. Even among those in the High group, only 24 % are against it. The question of what motivates OT then arises?
What motivates OT?
A large majority of people felt they are obliged to do OT when needed because it was their responsibility to do their job (73%). This is especially in the High OT group (81%).
The pay associated with OT could also be a motivator for OT. But it does not seem to work on all workers. Irrespective of whether they are receiving pay for OT, quite a substantial number of the people we surveyed agreed in someway to the statement that they don’t mind OT even if there is no pay for it. This attitude is directly proportional to the amount of OT work they are doing: 44% of those in the High OT group admitted that they would do OT even if there is no pay for it. This figure drops to 35% in the Middle group and 25% in the Low OT group.
Apart from feeling responsible, the sense of achievement could be another motivator. This applies especially to the professionals. Professionals are over-represented in the High OT group although they made up only 15% of the total number surveyed). The number of them who reported a greater sense of achievement doubles those in the other job categories (50% vs. 25%).
Professionals engage in OT work more often than others probably because they think they are irreplaceable. 51% of them think it is hard to delegate their work. This compares to only 28% in the other occupational groups.
The overall sentiment is that respondents generally accept that they have to do OT, although they are against excessively long hours. Respondents who have not been paid for their OT do not mind doing OT without pay. However, respondents who are used to getting paid for their OT would object to not being paid. In essence, pay does not seem to be the strongest motivator for OT. As seen from the comparisons between the professional and non-professional groups, the sense of responsibility or the sense of personal achievement are the other major determinants of OT acceptance. (講心少講金)
Work overload and possible adverse effects
Another approach to deciding whether OT is an issue is to look at how OT impacts on the workers especially their sense of psychological well-being. While we have not surveyed this comprehensively, we did find that people working more OT feel overwhelmed. Our findings show that first of all, the amount of OT work seems to have a direct relationship with workload. More people in the High OT group find workload inappropriate (i.e. too much) than those in the Middle and Low group (35% vs. 18% and 17% respectively). More than 50% of them think that oftentimes they do not have sufficient time to complete their work (56%) and they feel overloaded (58%). There are more of them who feel unhappy about the work demand and long hours than those in the other two groups (Dissatisfied: 37% vs 24% and 12% respectively for work demand; 38% vs. 18% and 20% respectively for work hours).
Expected hours of work
The negative impact of too much OT is also indirectly reflected in workers’ assessment of how long the working week should be. While apparently many of them do not object to OT, in their hearts of hearts, they wish to work fewer hours. The median expected hour per week is 44 hours (vs. a median of 50 hours in the past 7 days). This value is rather consistent for all irrespective of their present OT situation.
Beyond the facts: implications of findings
An important question coming out of this survey is how much OT is too much. Put it in another way, how long should the working week be? Obviously different workers may have different answers. There are too many factors to affect this. The established working hours in other countries reflect more of the values and culture of those countries than telling us exactly how many hours one should work beyond which there will be an harmful effect.
The general argument that we need some degree of work-life balance is naturally valid. Our study shows that in general, people do desire shorter working hours. But apart from the question of how many work hours will be long enough to upset this balance, we do not have a clear understanding of how work-life balance should operate to achieve optimal return. What happens to the “life” side of the balance? What do people do in non-work hours? Do those pursuits help enhance the physiological and psychological well-being of the individual? Do most people have some non-work goals and how does this affect the balance? Does work-life balance operate differently across different cultures? More research is needed to help us understand more.
We hope that raising these issues add more dimensions to the debate of whether it is advisable to enforce a maximum number of working hour policy. Also, this survey has shown quite clearly that many people do not feel being forced to work overtime. OT, like being hard-working, appears to be a positive work value and is reinforced by a sense of achievement. The implication is that if we are to change this perception, we have to work on these people’s values and the culture in which the values are embedded. We need, for example, role models who not only support but actually practice working shorter hours. Solving it administratively through legislation may not be as effective for this category of people.