5 December 2019
Unlimited holidays don't mean employees can dream of weeks-long stays on the beach and away from work. Photo: Bloomberg
Unlimited holidays don't mean employees can dream of weeks-long stays on the beach and away from work. Photo: Bloomberg

SHKC gives staff unlimited holidays. What’s the catch?

Who wouldn’t want to work for a company that offers unlimited holidays? Especially in times like now when the bonus checks tend to surprise on the downside!

If you are cutting back on monetary rewards, how about compensating us at least by providing more vacation? 

Well, office workers in Hong Kong who harbor such thoughts will now have the opportunity to cite the example of a local financial company that, at least on the surface, has shown the way. 

I am talking about brokerage financing firm Sun Hung Kai & Co (SHKC), which is reported to have offered its staff a new perk: unlimited holidays.

Who doesn’t welcome such New Year gift?

Interestingly, the SHKC news was initially greeted with suspicion, with netizens wondering if the financial services firm was indirectly telling its staff that there was not much work for them and that the company could do with reduced headcount.

The skepticism, however, soon gave way to cheers as word got around that Sun Hung Kai & Co — not to be confused with its better known namesake Sun Hung Kai Properties — was indeed making a serious commitment to its workers.  

Apparently, employees can take off whenever they want with no limit on the number of holidays. It is left to the workers’ discretion to choose the time and extent of their vacation time.

What is unsaid is this: make your decisions wisely, your moves will be watched. And don’t abuse the system. 

SHKC said it rolled out the new policy after studying some companies that have made a name for themselves in terms of innovation and efficiency. Chairman Lee Shing-wong said staff will have more freedom at work and they will be able to better manage their work schedule.

The initiative comes as forward-thinking businesses, taking the lead of tech firms in Silicon Valley in the US, are becoming more open to the idea of offering greater freedom to staff – be it working from home or have flexible hours, and even bottomless holidays.

Companies in the West that have introduced unlimited holidays have argued that the policy makes for happier workers and improved productivity. A flexible vacation policy will help the firms become bigger draws for luring talent on the market.

Overall, there is the promise of better work-life balance, something that is lacking for many people who work in demanding industries and service sector jobs.

Hong Kong is among the places that scores poorly on this front, so it will be good news if employers do take measures to alleviate the worker stress, including through provision of more holidays. 

But truth be said, local firms are mostly unwilling to move out of their comfort zones when it comes to vacation time for staff as the businesses fear the freedom might not be exercised responsibly.

SHKC is more of an exception than the rule here when it comes to hopping onto the holiday bandwagon, although some new-age businesses — such as Uber Hong Kong — have made waves with their unlimited holiday policy for their workers.

Of course, unlimited is a bit of a misnomer because one can’t imagine any worker wanting to take endless holidays and still hoping to retain his or her job.

If you look at the global firms that have put in place unlimited holidays policies, most of them are known to be demanding work places where staff can’t afford to take it easy. 

If a person takes too much leave, he would lose out against colleagues when it comes to career advancement while also suffering snide remarks from superiors and co-workers.

Given such pitfalls, it has been reported that many firms with flexible vacation polices have seen their staff actually take less, not more, holidays despite the greater freedom. 

Also, with no fixed holidays, companies would not need to account for leave arrear payments if a worker suddenly decides to quit. That is an added benefit as far as the business is concerned.

If you are a worker, you may find it better not to get carried away by the talk of unlimited holidays. There is really no such thing as a free lunch.

Just treat as a good joke – something that makes you happy for a while before you totally forget about it.

That being said, let’s still raise a toast to SHKC for its bold move.

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EJ Insight writer