Hong Kong must do more to stop peo­ple com­mit­ting sui­cide

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - HK COMMENT - FUNG KE­UNG The au­thor is co­or­di­na­tor of the Fi­nan­cial Jour­nal­ism pro­gram at Hong Kong Bap­tist Univer­sity’s School of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

My mind has been dis­turbed since the sud­den death of a friend ear­lier this month. Wil­fred Lai Ming-fai, head of Polytech­nic Univer­sity’s Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and Pub­lic Re­la­tions Depart­ment, jumped to his death from the build­ing where he worked. He left a sad note say­ing he had no life but work and hoped his death would make Hong Kong em­ploy­ers’ more aware the need to achieve a healthy work-life bal­ance for em­ploy­ees.

A day later, a Hong Kong-based news­pa­per con­ducted a sur­vey, com­par­ing Hong Kong peo­ple’s feel­ings of hap­pi­ness with seven main­land cities, in­clud­ing Bei­jing, Shang­hai, Guangzhou and four oth­ers. The sur­vey found that only 40 per­cent of Hong Kong cit­i­zens were happy with their lives, lower than the 70 per­cent found among peo­ple in Bei­jing and Shang­hai.

Hong Kong em­ploy­ers should try to make the lives of their em­ploy­ees hap­pier and eas­ier. On av­er­age, Hong Kong work­ers have a 48-hour work week, com­pared with 41.5 hours for work­ers in the main­land. A shorter work­ing week might re­duce com­pa­nies’ prof­itabil­ity slightly, but it will be well worth it. An un­happy work­force might ac­tu­ally re­duce pro­duc­tiv­ity.

In gen­eral, Hong Kong peo­ple are over­worked and un­der­paid. In the same news­pa­per sur­vey, only 22 per­cent of em­ploy­ees in Hong Kong said they were sat­is­fied with their in­comes.

Stress at work has driven many peo­ple to com­mit sui­cide as an easy way out. Of­fi­cial fig­ures from the Hong Kong gov­ern­ment’s Sui­cide Preven­tion Ser­vices showed that the ser­vices had re­ceived in the 2012-2013 fis­cal year more than 34,000 tele­phone calls from the pub­lic for help — a record high in the past three years.

Not just em­ploy­ers, but every­body should try to stop peo­ple from walk­ing “the road of no re­turn”. Af­ter my friend Mr Lai’s death, I im­me­di­ately e-mailed all my friends in the pub­lic re­la­tions field, telling them to call me be­fore they do any­thing stupid and I’d prom­ise to sing them Be­yond’s leg­endary song Zhen De Ai Ni ( I truly love you), which is a touch­ing song about a mother’s love for her chil­dren. I urge peo­ple to lis­ten to this song if they feel sui­ci­dal. I am sure they will change their minds af­ter lis­ten­ing to it.

Like Lai, 80 per­cent of peo­ple sur­veyed said they felt pres­sure at work. The per­cent­age is higher than the main­land cities’ av­er­age of 48 per­cent. The fu­ture doesn’t look good for Hong Kong in this re­gard. Only about 25 per­cent of peo­ple sur­veyed here said their stan­dard of liv­ing had im­proved in re­cent years, lower than 66 per­cent for peo­ple in the main­land.

And just 44 per­cent of Hong Kong peo­ple said they got on well with their fam­i­lies and main­tained good re­la­tion­ships with friends and col­leagues at work. This low per­cent­age com­pared to a high 81 per­cent of main­lan­ders who got on well with oth­ers.

It would be a great bless­ing if lo­cal and for­eign com­pa­nies in Hong Kong em­ploy an ex­tra hand in their hu­man re­sources depart­ment whose main job is to ad­vise man­age­ment on how to strike a work-life bal­ance, how to make em­ploy­ees hap­pier and how to im­prove re­la­tions among col­leagues.

For those who are frus­trated and de­pressed, re­mem­ber that help­ing hands are al­ways around. There are three non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions (NGOs) in Hong Kong pro­vid­ing sui­cide preven­tion hot­line ser­vices. The tele­phone num­bers are: 2382 0000 (Sui­cide Preven­tion Ser­vices 24-hour Sui­cide Preven­tion Hot­line), 2896 0000 (The Sa­mar­i­tans 24-hour hot­line) and 2389 2222 (The Sa­mar­i­tan Be­frien­ders Hong Kong 24-hour hot­line).

The So­cial Wel­fare Depart­ment also al­lows the Hong Kong Fed­er­a­tion of Youth Groups to op­er­ate the “Youth­line” (tele­phone num­ber: 2777 8899). This of­fers im­me­di­ate coun­sel­ing to vul­ner­a­ble young peo­ple.

Let us all work to­gether in mak­ing Hong Kong peo­ple hap­pier.

Fung Ke­ung

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