Hong Kong is impressive – no doubt about it. Most noticeably, the tall buildings speak of commercial success, ambition, confidence and money. Not unlike Dubai, to the visitor, Hong Kong communicates a sense of infallibility, aloofness. Nothing is going to de-throne this city from its perch of superiority and power. So it is with surprise that I notice the most recent cover article in the local news magazine “HK Magazine”. My surprise is less based on the nature of the article (“Stress City – Is Hong Kong About to Implode”) than on the fact that a local news magazine discusses a sensitive topic with such honesty and openness. Perhaps therein lies the difference between Dubai and Hong Kong.
According to the article’s author, Justin Heifetz, 50% of Hong Kong’s workforce feel they have poor mental health. The likely cause of this high level of dysfunction in the population is an overworked, underpaid and under appreciated workforce. Most noticeably, employees feel great pressure from their bosses to work overtime without compensation. On average, Hongkongers work 2,300 hours per year. That is significantly more than the 1,700 hours employees spend at work in other developed countries annually. Most stressed appear to be people working in the telecom sector followed by teachers and employees in the finance, property management, transportation and construction industries, consecutively. A survey sponsored by the government’s Occupational Safety and Health Council, revealed that 60% of the survey respondents “feel highly stressed from their jobs”, 21% feel a loss of energy, 18% need psychological treatment, 15% have sleeping problems and over 7% have regular suicidal thoughts. Remarkably, 25% of respondents experience depression and anxiety, which is 250% higher than the global average.
But a stressful life is not limited to the working world. Already in high school, students in Hong Kong experience pressure from heavy homework workloads (71.9%), from parental pressure to perform (68%) and from concerns about being able to access a spot at university or college (51.8%).
The glitz and glamour of successful cities like Hong Kong are seductive and one can be forgiven for thinking that living and working in such an environment would be thrilling and fun. But the mental and emotional costs inflicted on the very people who are the driving force behind the success, are staggering.
Is Hong Kong about to implode? Not likely! Regardless if the root causes for stress at the work place are endemic and cultural or related to a particular industry, there will always be people who are willing to pay a high price for job security, job advancement or simply being part of cutting edge technology.