Five surprising things about working in Hong Kong

Hong Kong
Nicky Burridge By Nicky Burridge, CA Today

20 September 2016

An ever-changing, bustling city and a thriving economy make Hong Kong a great place to work. It is not without its surprises, however, and Nicky Burridge has listed five things that you might not expect to find when working in Hong Kong.

1. People still take lunch breaks

While the lunch break may be a thing of the past in many corporate cultures, it is still going strong in Hong Kong.

Workers typically down tools for at least an hour at lunchtime to head out of the office in search of food. The concept of a lunch break is so entrenched that even the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong pauses for an hour in the middle of the day.

In fact, when Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing announced in 2012 that it was trimming the trading break to an hour from 90 minutes, traders and brokers took to the streets in protest. Many claimed the shorter time would make it impossible for them to have lunch with their clients, which they deemed necessary in a culture that still places great emphasis on personal business relationships and face-to-face contact.

2. Feng shui is very important

Feng shui, the art of harmonising an environment and tapping into positive energy to create prosperity, is taken very seriously in Hong Kong.

Many businesses will give the same attention to feng shui when choosing new premises as others would give to a structural survey. If the feng shui is not good, a feng shui master will be called in to help get everything back in harmony.

There are around 10,000 feng shui practitioners in Hong Kong and the methods are still part of the construction industry’s due diligence requirements. The Hong Kong government has admitted that it has paid out “millions of dollars” to people whose feng shui has been adversely affected by government building projects, although it has declined to put an exact figure on the sum.

The city’s preoccupation with feng shui has led to some distinctive architecture. Many buildings have holes left in the middle of them to allow for the flow of positive energy or dragons through them. It is not unusual to see a building with no windows on its back wall, as this prevents positive energy from leaking out of the building. And if the distribution of desks in an office looks a little unusual, it is probably because nobody wants to have a desk located below a cross beam.

3. People work long hours

A recent study by UBS found that people in Hong Kong have the longest working hours in the world, putting in an average of 2,606 hours a year, the equivalent of just over 50 hours a week.

There are a number of reasons people in the city spend so long at their desks, ranging from the fact that many employees are still expected to work on a Saturday morning, to the need for those in certain industries to ensure some of their working day overlaps with other major financial centres, such as London and New York.

Another reason why many people in Hong Kong clock up such long working hours is a cultural belief that it is bad form to leave the office before the boss does. As a result, many employees will cease productive work at around 5.30pm to 6pm, but remain in their chairs until their boss goes home.

4. There are a lot of public holidays

Employees may be entitled to as little as seven days a year of paid annual leave, but Hong Kong has one of the highest numbers of public holidays in the world.

People who have worked for a company for less than three years only have to be given seven days of paid holiday a year, rising to 14 days for those with at least nine years’ service. However, the low level of paid leave is somewhat offset by the high number of public holidays Hong Kong celebrates.

With 17 public holidays a year, Hong Kong has the fourth highest number in the world, following India at 21 and Columbia and the Philippines at 18, and more than doubling the eight that workers in the UK enjoy. Not only does Hong Kong observe the standard Western public holidays of Christmas, New Year and Easter, but it also celebrates the national days of Hong Kong and China, Labour Day, and a number of traditional Chinese festivals.

Workers are given three days off for Chinese New Year, as well as a day each for Buddha’s birthday, Ching Ming, or tomb sweeping day, Tuen Ng, the dragon boat festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival and Chung Yeung, another important time to visit the tombs of ancestors.

5. Seating plans matter

The seating plan for a business dinner or banquet is hugely important in Hong Kong.

Chinese etiquette places a great deal of emphasis on where guests are seated, as this denotes the person’s status at the occasion. For a business dinner, the most senior person from the company that is hosting the event will typically sit in the chair that directly faces the door.

The most important guest will sit on the host’s right-hand side, with the second most important guest on his left. Other people will sit in order of decreasing rank, with the least important people closest to the door.

The only exception to this is that the supporting host will sit closest to the door, so that he can communicate easily with the waiters.

About the author

Nicky Burridge has worked as a journalist for more than 16 years. She started her career at the Press Association as a news reporter, before becoming Personal Finance Correspondent, a post she held for more than 10 years.
During her time at the Press Association her work for the PA Newswire was published in a range of national and regional newspapers, including the Financial Times, Daily Telegraph, the Independent and the Guardian.

In 2011 she moved to Hong Kong and went freelance, writing for a number of publications including the South China Morning Post, Daily Mail and a host of specialist financial magazines. She also held the post of senior editor for investment magazine Benchmark.


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