Working Hours of Construction Employees in Hong Kong

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This study examines whether the local construction workers satisfied with the length of their working hours and whether there is necessary for the Government to constrain the working hours of the labours by imposing regulations or similar control measures. For your background of this study, this chapter outlined (1) background of this study; (2) the aim and objectives of this study; (3) methodology adopted and (4) overview of the study scope.


Construction industry significantly contributes to Hong Kong’s economic. The long working hours as the negative impression of the construction industry causes aging problems and lack of fresh blood in the industry.

According to the Working Time Directive from Europe (Directive, 2003), weekly working hours of at least 48 hours or more should be regarded as long. Therefore, more than 48 hours could be regarded as “long” working hours which makes consistency among studies. Alongside with that there are voices that the workers in Hong Kong are currently required to work excessively long hours – some suggested that the average workers have to work for a range of 60 to 70 hours per week. This is long if it is compared to the average working hours of labour in the U.S., the European countries, Japan or other developed countries. The nature of Hong Kong construction industry is using long working hours to cope with the tight construction schedules. Normally, the workers in the mentioned regions generally work less than 44 hours per week (OECD, 2004).

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In Hong Kong, the employers of the contractors are complaining that they currently suffer from labour shortage and problem of an aging labour force. Therefore, there are two significances of this study. First, the reduction in the length of the working hours shall help to make building construction a more attractive industry for young men and women and shortage and aging problems. The youth may be encouraged to join the building construction industry. Second, people may suffer from fatigue after repeatedly working for long hours, such fatigues may lead to personal and/or family problems, occupational diseases and safety hazards. Thus, the situation on labour’s working hours must be revealed and studied.

Research Aim and Objectives

This research aims investigate of there is a need for the Government to constrain the working hours of the local construction workers to a designated limit by imposing regulations or similar control measures.

The study covers understandings of the weekly length of working hour of the labour and their satisfaction of the length. And it also investigates the reasons of the longer working hours compared to the counterparts in the other advanced countries, examines if there are alternative ways to implement building construction works without the need of the workers to work for more than 44 hours per week. It is expected that this study can make contributions to reveal these mentions if actions shall be taken by the legislators to control the maximum working hours of labour serving the building construction industry.

The objectives of this study are as followed:

  • To identify the situation of working hours faced by the local workers.
  • To examine the possible impacts due to excessively long working hours of the workers in the building construction industry.
  • To identify the concept of “work life balance”.
  • To examine the leading international practice on controlling the maximum number of working hours of individual workers per week.
  • To conduct a questionnaire survey to the workers in the building construction industry for the situation.
  • To conduct interviews with site agents or project managers of the building general contractors for the situation.
  • To conduct interviews with the leaders of the local labour unions for any improvements.
  • To discuss the issues identified and make conclusions and necessary recommendations (for further studies).

1.4 Methodology

The objectives of this study can be achieved through the following methods:

  • Literature review on books, journals and websites were carried out to summarize exiting knowledge on related topics.
  • Data collection was carried out by conducting a questionnaire survey to front-line workers in the industry.
  • Data collection was carried out by interviewing project managers and leaders of the local labour unions in the industry.
  • Data analysis was conducted by using SPSS16.0 for window. The reliability assessments, descriptive analysis, one-way ANOVA, Pearson correlation analysis and multiple regression analysis were conducted.

1.5 Scope of Study

In order to achieve the objectives, this study is divided in the following main chapters:

Chapter 1

Give a brief introduction of the backgrounds, aim and objectives, methodology and scope of this study.

Chapter 2

  • Give an overview of construction industry in Hong Kong;
  • Investigate the impacts of long working hours;
  • Investigate the concept of “work life balance”; and
  • Elaborate the concept of “work life balance”

Chapter 3

Describe methodology adopted for this study.

Chapter 4

Conduct analysis on the collected data by using statistics techniques;

Discuss on the findings of study.

Chapter 5

  • Give conclusions and recommendations;
  • Give limitations of this study;
  • Provide suggestions for further research.


2.1 Overview of Construction Industry

In Hong Kong, the construction industry plays an important role in the economy of Hong Kong. The Government announced in the 2011-2012 Budget that HK$58 billion would be spent on infrastructures, which is nearly HK$10 billion more than within 2010-2011. According to the Quarterly Report of Employment and Vacancies at Construction Sites, was published by the Census and Statistics Department, the industry’s employees were accounted for 56,502 of the labour force in 2010.

Also, the Government plans to invest continuously in infrastructure to promote growth, that the estimated capital works expenditure will exceed HK$60 billion for each of the next few years. In additional 600 thousands square meters land for commercial or business use will be available to enhance the self competitiveness among advanced countries. The Government expects there are 60,000 additional job vacancies will be created in this year.

2.1.1 Long Working Hours

The long working hours should be divided by genders, for the male employees, “long hours” should be regarded as over 60 hours per week; for the female employees, it should be regarded as over 40 hours per week (Dex et al., 1995). In these recent years, Messenger (2004) had compared the working hours of employees in various countries, and found that the advanced countries like Japan, in which a high proportion of employees have to work 50 or more hours per week.

According to the Working Time Directive (Directive, 2003), 48 hours per week was defined as “long hours” and which was used as the indicator in this study. As stated in The State of Work-Life Balance in Hong Kong 2010 survey conducted by Community Business, 48.7 hours was the average working hours to the employees in different industries. The Government announced in the 2010 Report on Annual Earnings and Hours Survey that there are more than 60% of employees in construction industry have to work more than 48 hours per week, and also the median weekly working hours increased 1.6% from 2009 to 2010. As stated in the overseas literatures review, the “ideal” length of working hours should be about 7 to 9 hours per day or 48 to 50 hours a week.

2.1.2 Factors for Long Working Hours

The study (New Zealand Census, 2006) found that requirements of jobs, income, the culture of workplaces, and the job satisfactions provided motivate people work longer time.

First, the requirements of the job include completion of the tasks appointed, even high workload and respond to the client’s demands; Second, the need for more income should be driven by both maintaining basic needs of life and consuming luxury goods; Third, the culture of the construction site should be always under tight schedule, no matter due to inappropriate management or unexpected weather or accidents; Forth, the satisfaction of the workers should be intangible rewards of works (Lindy, 2009; Raphael and Itzhak, 2006; Weston et al. 2002).

As the construction industry in Hong Kong is very competitive in the previous years, the number of projects is not enough for the workers due to the economic recession. Since the construction period of each contract is limited, contractors would like to compress the period of construction as possible for their own profit. Therefore, the workers have to complete their works as soon as possible to prevent delay of schedule and shorten the construction period by days. Otherwise, workers may not able to get further job opportunities.

2.2 Impacts for excessively long working hours

There are many researches focus on the relationships between long working hours and fatigue, which could be associated with physical and psychological health of human. For this characteristic, Dex et al. (1995) believed that it brought both positive and negative impacts.

At the positive side, the “long hour” working man could be regarded as a responsible, hardworking and motivated person to his/ her work, family and society. He/ she could earn more income to the family and be served as a role model. At the negative side, fatigue and stress come along with the deprivation of rest. Those feelings are not good for individual social network and family, and may damage to physical and mental health. Insufficient rest could also damage performance and cause safety problems, most accidents were due to unconsciousness (Lindy, 2009; Johanna and Joanne, 2003; Fox and Dwyer, 1999).

2.2.1 Fatigue

Fatigue is not easy to be defined, which could be acute and cumulative. Konz (1998) believed that long daily work hours and long weekly work hours would make people being fatigue, especially if there is a lack of rest. Those effects of fatigue should be divided into direct and indirect outcomes, while the indirect outcome is in term of performance of work or health problems. His approach was to avoid overtime of work, that the working hour over 12 hours per day and 55 hours per week should be regarded as overtime.

For the mechanisms which contributed to fatigue, Rogers et al. (1999) pointed that age, health status, quality and quantity of sleep, length of working hours, work experience, work motivation and home or family life should be used for measuring degree of fatigue.

In the Asian countries liked as Japan and South Korea, researches showed that workers complained of physical and mental fatigue after excessively long working hours, such fatigue could not be escaped and be kept into the next day. The chronic fatigue brought harmful to cardiac health and decreases the cardiovascular functions (Park et al., 2001; Shimonitsu and Levi, 1992). There are evidences that the degree of fatigue is in positive relationship with the length of working time and negative relationship with the length of recovery time.

2.2.2 Physical Health

A Japanese term “Karoshi” means people die from a syndrome of cardiovascular attacks liked strokes, myocardial infarction or acute cardiac failure after excessively overwork (Spurgeon et al., 1997). For a more biological explanation, Liu et al. (2002) conducted a research to investigate the relationship between heart diseases and length of working hours by comparing the workers who have to work more than 61 hours per week and who have to work less than 40 hours per week. The study reflected that overtime work increases blood pressure and heart rate, which induces cardiac symptoms such as chest pain. Presence of abnormal heart rate and blood pressure increases the risk of acute myocardial infarction (abbr.: AMI). Also, insufficient rest increases the rate of AMI; the risk of AMI should be induced by the combination of working hours and the quantity and quality of sleep.

Besides heart diseases, Yasuda et al. (2001) pointed out that long hours working may damage the self immunity, chronic headache and irritable bowel problems might be induced by working overtime (CIPD ,2001).

2.2.3 Psychological Health

In Hong Kong, the number of construction site workers in September 2010 was in total 56,503 people, in which published by the Census and Statistics Department, the ratio of male and female was approximately 12:1. The female site workers are minority in the construction industry. Shields (2000) noted that women who used to work longer hours are more likely to develop depression compared to their colleagues working normal hours.

Depression could be a measure in considering stress, which the term “Stress” is difficult to be defined. Spark et al. (1997) concluded that there were outcome measures when defining stress. The outcome measures should include depression, anxiety, frustration, mood symptoms, poor sleep quality, role strain, irritability/ tension, problems with relationships and general mental stress amongst other things.

All these diverse indicators are used to define stress in different bases. There is a small but significant correlation between psychological health symptoms and length of working hours, it should be contrast relationship. However, it was not easy to provide evidences to access the actual association with long working hours and poor mental health outcomes (Kodz et al., 2001).

2.2.4 Performance

Most of the available evidences support that poor performance is related to longer working hours, but the relationship should be complicated and not conclusive. By measuring the performance effects, productivity outcomes and, speed and accuracy tests are the direct and indirect measurements respectively.

A report showed that the productivity reduced for 2-4% whiles the length of working time increased by 10% (Shepard and Clifton, 2000). By conducting survey with management level, Worrall and Cooper (1999) showed that 68% of managers felt that there was an adverse effect on their productivity after working for long period of time. Kodz et al. (2001) pointed out a poll result that 62% of the managers believed that shorter working hours gives workers more incentive in production.

Fatigue induced by long working hours could be regarded as a stressor, and excessive stressors will lead to decrease the performance of workers, suggested by Proctor et al. (1996). However, an appropriate level of stressors will increase arousal and enhance performance. Some researches tried to find the relationship between work performance and the weekly working days and the daily working hours, those researches had tested the employees by adjusting the different combination of working time. Shepard and Clifton (2000) noted that the length of workweek possibly affects the productivity through effects on individual motivation, effort and satisfaction, physical well-being, stress and fatigue, and absenteeism. The result showed that there are many variables in considering the correlation of working hours and performance.

2.2.5 Safety and Accident

People after working for long hours would like to lose their attention and would to take risks, work-related accidents might then happen. Fatigue due to long working hours might cause man-made disasters. Wellens (2001) noted that Chernobyl or the Exxon Valdez oil spill were contributed by such fatigue.

Besides the fatigue, losing attention while working might bring harms to the workers in certain working environments which are exposure to toxic chemical or hazards. Ong et al. (1982) said that the prevalence of hand injuries should be related to lack of training, supervision, inexperience and time of day. The time of day when is most likely to have accidents should be around the 8th to ­9th hour at work (Hanecke et al., 1998).

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The Labour Department announced the number of accidents of the construction industry was 7.1% among the major economic activities, which about 2,755 accidents within 2009-2010. According to the statistics published by Labour Department, the top five types of accidents were (1) Injured whilst lifting or carrying, (2) Slip, trip or fall on same level, (3) Striking against or struck by moving object, (4) Striking against fixed or stationary object and (5) Contact with moving machinery or object being machined. The above types of accidents should be man-made, which could be prevented or avoided by great attention, good supervision and training. There are clearly showed that long working hours could be related to safety and accidents in particular working environments.

2.3 Work-life Balance

Work-life balance (abbr.: WLB) has been being concerned in Hong Kong few years ago. As began at 2004, The University of Hong Kong (HKU) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Asia carried out a survey on the topic of work-life balance among the local employees, which was a questionnaire based survey. In that research, there were some benchmarks related to the situation in Hong Kong, they were length of working hours, general reasons for working overtime, effects on health, availability of sick leaves and annual leaves, and loyalty to company of the employees.

In 2006, Community Business started to conducted a similar survey called “The State of Work-Life Balance in Hong Kong”, which published annually. The local situation about WLB is reviewed by this survey per year. And the objectives of the surveys are different by each year, the newest report published in 2010 studying the role of flexible work arrangements in improving the WLB of employees and reviewing the previous results since 2006.

2.3.1 Definition

Until present, the concept of “work-life balance” is not well defined, but all the definitions are related to the work hours. If the hours of day are not measured, the concept of “work- life balance” should be intangible. The different combination of working hours and non-working hours in a day could provide a clear picture on the balance. Some people say “WLB” concerns flexibility of schedules, while the others say it is a reduction in working hours (Kodz et al., 2001; Dow-Clarke, 2000; Major et al., 2001; Fox and Dwyer, 1999; Wallace, 1999; O’Driscoll et al., 1992). Also, the term of “work-life balance” is not the one used to describe the same issues around the world. Different researchers gave different terms to the issue in their own studies. For example, O’Driscoll et al. (1992) preferred the term “inter-role conflict” to describe the conflicts within an individual’s roles; “work-family conflict” brought up by Major et al. (2001) and Fox and Dwyer (1999); “work-to-nonwork conflict” proposed by Wallace (1999). Dow-Clarke (2002) defined “WLB” with respect to family life, income and the life cycle of her selected employees.

The work hours in WLB represent as short as achieving or maintaining individuals’ desired balance between work and family life. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in UK have made some practices of WLB in 2001, which are flexi-time, staggered hours, time off in lieu, compressed working weeks, shift swapping, self-rostering, working from home and etc.

However, most of the practices are not practical to the workers in construction industry, especially in this study. Flexible working hours have been proposed in Hong Kong for several years, but it is not very popular; the practice has been only supported by large business companies and the Government. To narrow down the literatures review of WLB, the effects of working long hours on WLB would be focused.

2.3.2 Effects of long working hours on Work-Life Balance

There are so many “long hours” standards in the various researches, some interviewed the employees working for 42 hours per week and some recorded the employees working more than 50 hours per week (Galambos and Walters, 1992; Wallace, 1999). It is not easy to compare the effects on long works. This review would aim to the effects on WLB only.

As it is hard to measure the impacts of work on home, Kodz et al. (2001) concluded that most of the researches took off attitudinal survey or case study approaches. The survey released by DTI and Management Today in 2002, showing that the UK employees would prefer shorter working hours rather than winning the lottery and most of the workers admitted the low accessibility of any flexible working practices.

For the effects on family life, there are three associations due to working long hours, (1) Disruption to family activities, (2) Dissatisfaction with the involvement and the amount of time spent in child care, and (3) Dissatisfaction with the amount of time spent with couples (La Valle et al., 2002). For the effects on personal life, they are relevant to depression and anxiety, stress, work life and role strain (Dow-Clarke, 2000; Galambos and Walters, 1992). In addition, Wallace (1999) concluded that the work life of individuals was the invader to the family life.

2.3.3 Influence of Work-Life Balance

Besides the negative effects of working long hours on WLB, there are some practices like compressed workweek schedule and flexi-time schedule would be positive for working performance, job satisfaction and satisfaction with work schedule (Baltes et al. 1999).

As mentioned before, there are some practices for improving WLB, which are all related to the work hours. Flexible time schedule, staggered hours, compressed workweek, shift swapping, self-rostering, annual hours, job sharing, working from home, and etc (DTI, 2001). All of them are the mechanisms to enhance the employees’ attitudes to work.

Invancevich (1974) carried out a work performance comparison between workers worked for compressed workweek and workers worked for normal schedule; and Baltes et al. (1999) evaluated the work performance of workers under flex-time and compressed workweek, both of the studies showed the positive outcomes in shorter workweek. The latter study reflected job satisfaction and satisfaction with work schedule too. Baltes et al. (1999) pointed that the positive effects of compressed workweek would not diminish over time, and there was no disruption to the productivity of absenteeism too.

The State of Work-Life Balance in Hong Kong Survey (2010) showed the problems resulting from poor WLB, there were the responses from employees. About 60% of respondents felt fatigue level, sleepiness and extreme tiredness prolonged by the poor work-life balance. Third of them complained the loss of amount of time to spend with family. Over a quarter of employees believed that their work hours invaded to their social life and decreased their job productivity. The results should be approximately same as the Work Life Balance Survey of Hong Kong Working Population published by HKU in 2009. To make a conclusion, the poor work-life balance affects the time arrangement of the employees throughout a day, functions as a stressor to the workers and harms the health of the workers.

2.4 Hypotheses of Study

Long working hours is recognized as an element in the local construction industry. The factors for long working hours of each individual are various, most of them could be classified as four dimensions, requirements of jobs, income, cultures of workplaces and work satisfaction provided (Lindy,2009; Raphael and Itzhak, 2006; Weston et al., 2002).

Impacts due to long working hours have been discussed for many years, which could be personal, family and social related. At the positive side, the employee could be served as a hardworking, motivated person, who should be a role model in a family (Dex et al., 1995). At the negative side, the physical and psychological health, family life, social network and safety problems are being affected by the long working hours (Lindy, 2009; Johanna and Joanne, 2003; Fox and Dwyer, 1999).

Work-life balance is an important concept in a living person, but it is just mentioned for years in Hong Kong. There are many practices used to improve the balance, to reduce the proportion of work hours within the whole life. Such as flexible time schedule, staggered hours, compressed workweek, shift swapping, self-rostering, annual hours, job sharing, working from home, and etc are the ways used over the world (DTI, 2001; Baltes et al., 1999; Invancevich, 1974). For the consequences due to unbalanced work-life, there are loss of the involvement in family activities and child care, the amount of time with couples and full of stress and anxiety (La Valle et al., 2002; Dow-Clarke, 2000; Wallace, 1999; Galambos and Walters, 1992).

Hypothesis 1- As suggested by the previous literatures, long working hours really affect the employee by different dimensions (Fox and Dwyer, 1999; Galambos and Walters, 1992). The workers are driven to work for longer hours by their own motivations (Lindy, 2009; Raphael and Itzhak, 2006). Since the degree of satisfaction in working long hours is different by people, it hypothesizes that the attitudes towards motivations that can enhance workers’ satisfaction in long working hours.

Hypothesis 2- As mentioned before, people with unbalanced work-life will diminish their time in participating activities other than works (La Valle et al., 2002; Wallace 1999; Baltes et al. 1999), and make the life not well developed and healthy. It hypothesizes that flexible work arrangement can help work-life balance in all aspects like personal life, family life and productivity of work.

CHAPTER 3: Methodology

3.1 Introduction

In the previous chapter, the background of the work hour problems faced by the workers in the construction industry was reviewed. Besides, the problems induced by long working hours and influences of Work-Life Balance were introduced in the literature review.

The objectives of this study are (1) to identify the drawbacks of working hours to the local workers; (2) to examine the possible impacts due to excessively long working hours of the workers in the building construction industry; (3) to identify the concept of work-life balance; (4) to examine the leading international practice on controlling the maximum number of working hours of individual workers per week.

In order to achieve the research objectives, a questionnaire survey had been conducted to collect data from construction workers, and a questions set with cover letter for interviews was designed to collect opinions from the union leaders and project managers in building general contractor firms. This chapter outlines the design of questionnaires, questions design of the interviews, data collection method and method of analysis undertaken in the next chapter.

3.2 Questionnaire Design

In order to achieve the research objectives, a 10 questions questionnaire was designed (see Appendix 1). Part I required the respondents to provide their basic information such as gender, age, experience in the construction industry and form of employment. Part II required the respondents to provide their normal daily working hours and weekly work days, overall working hours per week, normal daily rest time and evaluate the current length of working hours. Part III listed the possible reasons for overtime work arrangement from practical cases (see Table 3.1). The respondents were asked to tick the top five reasons faced and sort the chosen reasons with numbers (1=”most common”, 5=”least common”).


Shortage of Labours

There are not enough labours and too many works remained.

Poor arrangement of materials and/ or equipments

The arrangement of materials and/ or equipments is not satisfied to the construction processes on site.

Poor site management

Planning is not practical enough and/ or the schedules of work are not up-to-date or poor leadership of supervisor.

Reworks needed

There are construction mistakes due to unclear instructions, lack of supervisions, poor quality control, careless mistakes made by workers and/ or inappropriate installations.

Equipments damaged

Equipments are damaged and/ or mal-function under normal operations.

Changes of design

Temporary scheduling caused by changes of design, preparation and construction of work have to be revised.

Period of Contract

Period of contract is too short for normal construction process.

Unexpected weather

Construction processes could not be operated caused by poor or unexpected weather, and then there is a delay.


There are reasons not mentioned but happen in practical construction site.

3.3 Data Collection

The targeted respondents of the questionnaire are the front-line workers who work in construction site. Two pages questionnaire was sent to the contractor firms and distributed to the targeted respondents. And some of the collected questionnaires were interviewed by face-to-face.

The targeted interviewees were the project managers or site agents who are working in building general contractor firms and the leaders of the local labour unions. The questions set was sent to the targeted interviewees, email reply and phone interviews were conducted.

3.4 Data Analysis Method

In this research, the data analysis was carried out by SPSS 17.0 for windows, including

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