25 October 2016
Niki Lai (middle, inset) is grateful for the extended leave of absence that her employer St. James’ Settlement allows. Photos: Wikipedia, Metro Daily
Niki Lai (middle, inset) is grateful for the extended leave of absence that her employer St. James’ Settlement allows. Photos: Wikipedia, Metro Daily

Friendly employers reward staff with flexible leave arrangements

St. James’ Settlement (SJS) is among a new breed of employers which are willing to exercise a greater level of flexibility to accommodate employees’ needs.

Niki Lai is a manager at a SJS youth service center, having been with the non-government organization since 1997.

“I have to work Monday through Saturday, while I had to look after my mother on Sunday,” Lai told Metro Daily. “It was very tiring because my two sons also needed my help as they prepared for their exams. I only slept a few hours each day.”

Last year, Lai was told her mother was terminally ill with stomach cancer.

Her mother once asked her to quit her job and stay with her in the last mile of her life journey.

Lai struggled as she wanted to honor her mother’s wish but feared the loss of income would be a huge blow to her family.

Luckily, she was able to apply for an extended leave of absence with no pay from her employer SJS.

“I just did not want to have any regrets,” Lai recalled, having started her holiday in April.

“My mother’s conditions became unstable shortly after I started my holiday,” Lai said. “She went in and out of hospitals every few days and she passed away after a short period of time.”

Lai said she felt relieved to have been able to accompany her mother when she most needed someone close to be right next to her.

She said she has undergone some changes herself. She is no longer a workaholic and even her colleagues noticed her healthy glow.

SJS, which currently employs over 1,200 people, has been implementing the no-pay leave scheme since 2003. 

Under the scheme, employees who have been with the company for at least seven years are eligible take six or 12 months off without pay.

According to SJS chief executive Cynthia Luk Ho Kam-wan, it makes sense for someone who has worked for a long period of time to take a break once in a while.

Luk said employees could apply for the special leave for any reason, including holiday, further study or even time to play video games.

Since the policy was rolled out, the company has approved 44 applications, she said.

At Chuang Chiong Co. Ltd., a distributor of Chinese medicine products, 72-year-old employee So Chi-hung said his relationship with his boss Stanley Wong Cho-hang is like that of a family. So has been working with the company since 1979.

In 2002, when So’s three children went overseas to study, he retired and left Hong Kong for good.

Realizing that So might struggle to adapt to life without work, Wong told the long-time employee he could return to his work anytime.

Unsurprisingly, So returned to his post in a few months’ time.

Wong, who is in his 40s, said he cherished old employees because they have a huge sense of responsibility and can be counted on.

“I remembered there was a time when streets outside our old office in Sheung Wan were all flooded,” Wong said. “I saw So walking back to the office with water up to his chest, holding his phone and wallet above his head. He had to walk 28 flights of stairs to get to the office.”

Chuang Chiong has twice won the Family-Friendly Employer Award, a project of the Family Council with the support of the Home Affairs Bureau.

The 2015-2016 edition of the award is open for nominations.

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