Legislative Council's statistics in 2018 revealed that the median hours of employees in Hong Kong (HK) is 44.3 hours per week – which is 4.3 hours more than the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) recommendation of 40 hours per week. During the ongoing pandemic, many employees in HK are reportedly clocking more hours as they work from home.
As our day gets busy, it is likely that we will neglect to take an essential break. It's best to be very intentional about breaks as they are not only instrumental to improving our work productivity and performance, but to our mental and physical health too.
Here are 3 simple tips to help us to regularly step away and rebuild our energy:
- Schedule break time in our calendar. Set an alarm on our phones to remind us to take a break.
- Plan to do something we enjoy during the break – for example: read, have a favourite snack, go for a short walk, have a video call with our family and friends. The anticipation of doing something that we enjoy is likely to motivate us to take a break.
- Pay attention to the benefits we experience when we take a break. This will encourage us to make it consistent.
As employers of Migrant domestic workers (MDW), we should likewise encourage our employees to practise similar habits. According to a survey conducted by HelperChoice in 2018, 58% of MDW work more than 14 hours a day, 6 days a week. This translates to 84 hours a week – which is almost double the median working hours of an employee in HK.
It is particularly critical during the pandemic that our MDW strikes a good balance between work and personal wellbeing. A heavier workload, longer working hours, prolonged separation from family and lack of social interaction during the pandemic makes MDW at risk of suffering burnouts and sinking into depression. Burnout does not benefit us, our families or our work. Taking a break is a small and simple step to self-care.
Some employers wonder if giving breaks to their MDWs would encourage them to neglect their job duties. As we let our MDW know we care for their wellbeing as well as their relationship with their family, particularly their children; we should also be clear about our expectations as employers. For example, communicate as specifically as possible the job duties to be completed each week.
Keep an open mind as we work out with our MDW the number of hours required for each week's tasks. Plan as a team what's realistic for each workday, considering some days may be different, and schedule daily breaks. Caregiving does require more energy and effort, as compared to housekeeping. Allow buffer time in anticipation for the unexpected when our MDW are caring for our children and elderly parents.
If it is not feasible to complete so many work tasks in a day, consider staggering the tasks throughout the week. Be creative and flexible. For instance, we can consider online grocery shopping for some household essentials to lighten our MDW's workload.
As we are intentional to care for ourselves and our MDW by taking scheduled breaks and making it a lifestyle, we are on the journey to become our best selves both at home and at work.