17 October 2019
Guess what's making these HKBN employees smile? HKBN chief executive Yeung Chu-kwong announces a new, improved annual leave scheme.  Photos: HKEJ
Guess what's making these HKBN employees smile? HKBN chief executive Yeung Chu-kwong announces a new, improved annual leave scheme. Photos: HKEJ

What’s better than a raise?

Hong Kong Broadband Network (HKBN) may not give more salary increases or bonuses but it’s offering a comparable alternative — more holidays.

It’s nice to know that the company is upgrading its annual leave scheme to 17 days for its 2,300 employees, breaking with a telecom industry tradition.

The corporate norm is 12 days’ paid annual leave.

At 17 days, the new leave scheme matches those of most financial institutions for frontline staff, many of whom work more than 10 hours or the equivalent of five to six HKBN home service orders.

HKBN, formerly owned by Ricky Wong, is throwing in a sweetener — an extra 7.5 days’ holiday, including a family care leave, anniversary month leave and half-day work on some public holidays such as Mid-Autumn and winter solstice.

In other words, it has virtually doubled its staff holiday package to 24.5 days.

Call it a belated gift to celebrate its public listing or to mark a good run for the stock: HKBN is up 10 percent since its market debut two months ago.

Or call it perfect timing. It comes in a year when Hong Kong is getting an extra day off on Sept. 3 to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in Wold War II.

You may not like the cited reason for this one-off holiday but you can’t ignore the prospect of a long weekend for those who have a day to spare given that Sept. 3 is a Thursday.

This little reform by a traditional utility with a strong new-economy element, is expected to inspire other industry players to follow an emerging trend of work-life balance.

Proponents say it contributes to general happiness in society and few will not want that.

Holidays are a wonderful and easy tool to cheer up staff. I remember working for a company during SARS when a Christmas gift was a luxury.

Someone came up with the idea of giving away annual holidays as the top prizes at the company dinner. As far as I know, these are still the most sought-after lucky draw prizes.

In fact, holiday giveaways are a worldwide phenomenon to improve staff morale, especially among those in the rank and file.

This week, Facebook raised its US$15 hourly minimum wage, doing for its contract workers (cafeteria staff and janitors) what Google did for its bus drivers, parking attendants and security guards.

These moves help narrow the wage gap between the technology sector’s ordinary workers and its elite employees who have been riding a NASDAQ bull run.

Interestingly, the United States does not have statutory holidays but most employees get between six and 20 days of annual leave.

Russia leads the world with 28 days and most European countries have more than 20 days. China, by contrast, has only five days of annual leave.

There is no better incentive for a worker than money and holidays. If employers can’t give more money, they should seriously consider offering more holidays.

Some people have it both ways.

For instance, HKBN employees who invest in Hong Kong’s surging stock market will have more money to spend on their longer holidays.

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EJ Insight writer