Long working hours in the profession: alleviating the issue


An overview of the Institute’s survey report on long working hours in the profession, and how the Institute is helping to address the issue

Despite efforts to try to draw more attention to employees’ mental and physical health, Hong Kong has long been one of the top overworked cities in the world. Work-life balance has been a challenging issue for many professionals, including accountants, working in the city’s competitive business environment, and the topic of working hours has been widely discussed within the accounting profession.

To assess and evaluate overtime prevalence in the profession, the Institute’s Long Working Hours Steering Group conducted a survey in August to learn about the working conditions, the reasons for working overtime, as well as thoughts on effective ways to manage the issue in the profession from its members and Qualification Programme (QP) students.

The survey received 1,160 responses from Institute members and QP students. Key findings of the survey report include the following:

  • Slightly over half of respondents were seeking to change their roles over the next 12 months. The longer the working hours of individuals, the more likely they were to be seeking to change roles.
  • Salary and benefits was the top choice reason for both staying and wishing to leave. However, work-life balance was the most selected overall reason for leaving.
  • Over three quarters of respondents worked 11 or more hours of overtime a week.
  • Management and staff thought the main reasons for overtime were workload and tight reporting deadlines.
  • Over 60 percent of respondents thought that overtime was a common issue among different professions in Hong Kong. Junior staff and those working in audit and assurance were the most likely to see this as an issue solely in the accounting profession.
  • Recruiting more staff, streamlining work processes, and better planning and communications were the three most commonly selected ways to alleviate the issue of overtime.

Looking specifically at how, according to the report, junior staff and those working in audit and assurance are more likely to view long working hours as a problem unique to the profession, this suggests there are different expectations for juniors, or not enough staff to handle projects.

Recommended actions

While there is no single best way to deal with the issue of long working hours, the report suggests three areas that should be explored by management and the profession.

A shortage of labour is seen as the major cause of overtime in the profession. Organizations should consider how they can increase the number of suitably qualified employees they have to work on projects, while promoting work-life balance for their staff.

Organizations should also consider enhancing efficiency, streamlining their operations and deploying suitable technologies to support employees. Management should also consider the ways it can enhance project planning and internal communications.

Support and training should be offered to both staff and management on soft skills including leadership and communication, project and people management, and change and crisis management, all with the aim of increasing resilience and adaptability.

The Institute is supporting the profession through a number of activities. These include:

  •  Attracting talents with the new QP and engagement activities such as the HKICPA Accounting and Business Management Case Competition.
  • Offering recruitment support to employers through the HKICPA Source platform.
  • Offering training support in skills that are vital for the future, including soft skills, digital transformation, and practice management.
  • Working on digitalizing the Audit Practice Manual to incorporate it in audit management software.
  • Offering merchandise discounts on a wide range of software that can help practitioners to work more efficiently.
  • Promoting work-life balance through the 15 sports and recreational interest groups.
  • Supporting young members through the efforts of the Young Members Committee.
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