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Work Culture in Hong Kong

A life decision as significant as moving to work in a new country deserves due diligence to fully understand what you are getting yourself into – the pros as well as the cons! There are likely to be drastic differences that relate to salary figures, annual leave, languages, environment etc. which will no doubt contribute to your final decision being a “yes” or a “no”. I will try to summarise as succinctly as possible what Hong Kong work culture entails in terms of certain key factors that a lot of candidates have enquired about in the past.

Working Hours
A major consideration for a lot of people is obviously how much you will be working. Although Hong Kong does have a reputation for long working hours, anyone in construction will understand, the number of hours worked are prone to fluctuation.
A very general guide:
• Main Contractor (site) – 8:00am – 6:00pm – 6 days (alternate Saturdays/half day Saturday)
• Consultant (office) – 9:00/9:30am – 6:00/6:30pm (overtime likely) – 5 days
• Client – 9:00am – 6:00pm – 5 days
Keep in mind that these times are just a basic framework and actual working hours will depend from company to company, and of course intensity of a particular project. Note that with main contractor companies, it is standard practice to work on Saturday as well, whether this is a half day or an alternate Saturday depends on the company. There are some companies which work a full 6 day week. Site work is often quite erratic and times for clocking in and out are not strict observations.

Consultants on the other hand will most likely be working a 5 day week. Working overtime is by and large expected by employees, sometimes 1 or 2 hours unpaid, however this is more likely to occur during deadline periods. This is not set in stone, but it is crucial you understand from the employer (and vice versa) what you are expected and willing to do so that you are happy and comfortable in the position. Long and inflexible working hours is a major driving factor for employees to leave certain companies.

Multi-cultural environments
There will inevitably be a dramatic difference in the cultural diversity when dealing with a large international company versus a smaller local organisation. Western companies which are headquartered overseas are more likely to be receptive to hiring Western expat candidates, thus adopting a different approach to work than local companies – this could be reflected in the working hours, number of days annual leave, special allowance etc.

What is evident within a lot of companies is that the junior level positions are easily filled by local Chinese candidates – this is due to an abundance of willing workers at salary rates that are competitive to expats. Senior level positions may be difficult to fill, therefore higher salaries are readily available for Western expats coming in from overseas. This obviously creates a mix of candidates that is primarily consisting of Hong Kong Chinese, Western expats (mostly UK, American and Australian) and Filipinos.

Because of this multi-cultural environment, there is sometimes a worry regarding communication (or perhaps miscommunication is more appropriate!). Although the working language in Hong Kong is English, local workers will obviously communicate with one another in their mother tongue. Also, working methods may also differ and a certain level of education may be required from both parties so that processes are mutually intelligible.

“The Expat Package”
A lot of the time I hear from candidates coming from overseas (in particular the Middle East) that they are looking for “an expat package”. Fundamentally, they are hoping for a number of items (if not all!) to be provided such as a guaranteed bonus, plentiful annual leave, provided accommodation and transportation and school fees for children - this may have been the case back in the 2000s when HK experienced a construction boom, but with the volume of expats coming to work in HK now, it is unrealistic to provide such substantial packages to all overseas employees.

Although Hong Kong does not explicitly offer these kinds of packages any more, what it does offer is comparable to a lot of major cities – it simply comes in the form of higher lump sum salary figures which will more than likely cover expenses such as the above. In a lot of cases, this is a distinct advantage as your salary is not split into portions that are designated for specific expenditures.

Transportation becomes a redundant issue due to the small size of HK coupled with the excellent efficiency of the public transport network. However, some companies do provide a monetary transportation allowance to get to and from certain sites and offices.

Annual leave is typically something that is fairly negotiable within a contract; however a certain pay grade may dictate a certain number of days permitted. Taking a typical UK candidate as an example, they are likely to ask for annual leave of up to 28 days. This is not seen in Hong Kong as generally, annual leave starts from as little as 7-10 days and tops out at 21 days or so. This is balanced out by the higher number of public holidays available in Hong Kong (16 days in 2014) in comparison.

It is very important to understand the day-to-day details of a job within a specific country before you sign on the dotted line. Hong Kong has plenty of opportunity for career growth and development – not to mention life outside of work! In the end every person has their own goals and targets which need to be nurtured for them to become successful. If you wish to discuss more about working culture in Hong Kong and determine if it is the right place for you to work, please feel free to give the Maxim Recruitment team a call. We are always happy to help!

Donald Leung
Recruitment Consultant
Maxim Recruitment Hong Kong & Asia Region 

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