4-day work week in Hong Kong? Recruitment experts say firms steering clear despite new Singapore guideline, urge incentives

4-day work week in Hong Kong? Recruitment experts say firms steering clear despite new Singapore guideline, urge incentives

Local and international firms based in Hong Kong are steering clear of adopting four-day work weeks, recruitment and human resources experts have said after Singapore announced its new guideline on flexible employment policies.

But the specialists said the initiative could begin the dialogue for employers to review working arrangements, with a Hong Kong recruitment professional calling for the government and trade associations to offer incentives to help businesses with IT upgrades as companies transitioned to new ways of working.

Singapore authorities on Tuesday last week announced a guideline to allow workers to ask for four-day work weeks, more work-from-home days and staggered hours starting from December 1.

“I think at the moment [a four-day work week] would be seen as a good retention tool [and] recruitment tool. But I think the cost of doing it might be seen as prohibitive,” said Nick Marsh, managing director of Meraki Executive Search & Consulting.

“Everybody is going to be looking at the Singapore model and we will just sit on it for quite a while,” said Marsh, whose firm specialises in helping clients scout talent for leadership roles.

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Tourists visit Merlion Park in Singapore. The city state has unveiled a guideline for flexible work arrangements. Photo: Xinhua

Marsh pointed out that the pandemic had established a hybrid work model which had remained in place for some firms, and that had “taken a bit of pressure off” from employees looking to ask for a four-day work week.

He added one challenge posed by a four-day work week would be whether productivity fell over time, and most companies were therefore not inclined to change the current work arrangement as they were “desperately concerned” about cost.

In some jobs such as customer service and banking, many companies still were not convinced that clients would be satisfied with lower service levels if a shorter work week was adopted, Marsh said.

He said the best approach big companies had already deployed at present was to offer a varying degree of flexible working, which left employees and their supervisors to figure out an arrangement that both parties could agree on.

Without closing the door for future changes, international firms were “consciously and actively” reviewing their human resources policies to be in line with the global trend, Marsh said.

“I think the point is that [the four-day work week] has been put out there, and I think everybody is going to be interested to see who picks up on that and whether they are interested.”

Armstrong Lee Hon-cheung, managing director of recruitment agency Worldwide Consulting Group Company Limited, said small and medium-sized enterprises would face the most difficulty moving employees to a four-day work week or offering more work-from-home days.

He explained these companies did not have the means to set up a corporate intranet and system to facilitate fully remote work, with some even unable to provide a laptop to each employee.

He suggested the government roll out subsidy schemes for those enterprises to upgrade their software and hardware, while trade associations could also provide corporate discounts to ease their financial burden.

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“It is a good time for our society to discuss new work arrangements in the workforce, and the government could set a good example by making the first move,” he said.

The Civil Service Bureau on Friday said the government had no plan to implement a four-day work week arrangement for civil servants.

“In considering any change to the work schedule of its employees, the government will need to strike a balance among different factors,” the bureau said.

It added those factors included the impact on the level and quality of services to residents, public finances and the need to maintain a family-friendly environment for its staff.

The Labour Department said on Thursday that it encouraged employers to adopt “employee-oriented” measures, including flexible work arrangements and additional leave benefits to achieve work-life balance.

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But it fell short of answering whether employees from private sectors had demanded a four-day work week.

“We encourage employers and employees to engage in frank dialogue and effective communication in devising work arrangements which best serve the interests of both sides in the local circumstances,” it said.

Daniel Lee Ho-wah, president of the Hong Kong People Management Association, said more relaxing work arrangements could only be successful if management executives could resolve the issue of fairness among workers, as some jobs required employees to be present in office while others did not.

He added that managers could also take the chance to evaluate their employees’ commitment as an indicator of whether flexible working requests would suit the company.

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