The Toxic Culture of Overworking in Hong Kong

Updated: Jun 28, 2020

By Abby Lu


Graphic by Madeline Lee, Graphics Editor

According to a recent survey on overworking, workers in Hong Kong, a small city in South East China, stand at the top of the list amongst workers in Asian countries with some of the longest overtime hours. Overworking has taken over Hong Kong’s workspaces. A 2015 survey by Regus, an international office space provider, found that 20% of Hong Kong residents worked four to six hours overtime each week, while 19% worked for an extra six to eight. In another survey, almost 40% of respondents reported that they were regularly taking work home to finish in the evening.


Overworking is known to cause many concerning health effects related to fatigue and stress. For instance, researchers from University College London discovered that those who worked over 55 hours each week had a 13% greater risk for a heart attack and a 33% higher risk for a stroke compared to those who worked 35 to 40 hours each week. Another study found that white-collar workers who worked overtime for more than three hours each day had an increased risk of heart-related disease of up to 60%.


Although the exact link between overwork and cardiovascular diseases has not yet been established, work stress has been associated with many cardiac risk factors, resulting from the maintenance of unhealthy lifestyles amongst overworkers. Those who work long hours usually have no time or motivation for physical activity — a recent poll conducted at the University of Hong Kong found that 49.5% of Hong Kong residents failed to meet the standards for physical activity of the World Health Organization (WHO), which requires a minimum of 150 minutes of moderately intense activity or 75 minutes of vigorously intense sport every week.


If it is widely known that overworking and, consequently, fatigue, can lead to decreased productivity and dangerous health conditions, then why do people still decide to overwork themselves in the workplace? Sometimes there are just inevitable circumstances: if a company is understaffed, workers have to take on additional responsibilities, forcing them to work overtime. In other cases, people see overwork as a road to prosperity, wearing their long hours of work as a badge of honor. They think it shows hard work and dedication to their company.


While it might be difficult to amend the public opinion in Hong Kong on overworking, there are coping mechanisms that can help combat the negative effects of overworking:

  1. Prioritize more urgent or important tasks and create an organized to-do list.

  2. Do only one thing at a time: multitasking may seem productive, but in actuality, it causes an immense amount of stress on our minds.

  3. Ask for help: ask your colleagues to help you with smaller tasks, or talk to your boss about your situation.

  4. Take short breaks: take a coffee or stretch break from time to time.

  5. Don’t take work home: separate your house from your workplace as a sanctuary and resting place. Keep your work in the workplace!

  6. Get some exercise, which can not only help you relieve stress and anxiety, but also improve your health and fitness.

  7. Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule.


References:

https://www.hongkongfp.com/2015/12/08/overtime-hours-in-hong-kong-longest-in-asia-says-survey/

http://www.alkaliservices.com/why-overworking-is-bad-for-your-health-and-your-business/

https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/community/article/2114524/we-know-its-bad-so-why-are-hongkongers-so-tied-overwork

https://hongkongbusiness.hk/hr-education/news/hong-kong-workers-risk-due-overwork

https://www.educba.com/overworked-in-the-workplace/

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/only-the-overworked-die-young-201512148815

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