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Speech by SLW at the International Institute of Management (IIM) Annual Ball 2008 (English only)

     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at the International Institute of Management (IIM) Annual Ball 2008 today (October 4):

Dominic (Dr Dominic Wong), Maurice (Professor Maurice Teo), distinguished members of the IIM, ladies and gentlemen,

     It gives me great pleasure to be here tonight to catch up with some old friends and get to know many new ones.  I consider it a rare privilege and great honour to be made an Honorary Fellow of the International Institute of Management (IIM).  The IIM has established itself as a prestigious and renowned body in promoting management practices of world-class standards with an international perspective.


     "Management" takes on different meanings in different contexts.  We have to manage our time, our work, our health, our finances, our investment portfolio (very important these days), and even our relationship with family members, friends and colleagues.  Indeed, someone once told me that a modern approach to working smart is to manage the expectations of our bosses.  I can attest that it is no easy feat!

     As business leaders in your organisations, I am sure you will agree that managing relations with staff and colleagues is one of the most important tasks in running your businesses.  Problems like staff recruitment, retention, turnover, retrenchment and employee relations problems all call for careful management.  The art of achieving harmonious employee relations and retaining talents is crucial for maintaining comparative advantages in the business world.  Tonight, I would like to share with you some thoughts on "sharing".

Financial incentives

     First, and at the risk of stating the obvious, appropriate monetary rewards are absolutely necessary to attract and retain good employees.  Many employees have worked hard and shown strong loyalty during the difficult periods over the last few years.  I would like to appeal to employers at large to share the fruits of prosperity and improvement in business results with their employees.

     You may recall that there were a number of industrial disputes in the past few months and these were widely reported in the media.  We are delighted, and relieved, to see both the employees and the management of the concerned companies putting their heads together to resolve their differences in an amicable, pragmatic and rational manner.  In fact, the senior management of one company even thanked its staff for their sensible approach in reaching settlement with terms and conditions satisfactory to both parties.  I strongly believe that frank and regular dialogue between management and staff will help to develop mutual understanding and respect between the two sides, thereby facilitating resolution of differences that may arise in future.

Staff recognition

     But fair monetary reward is not the only thing that good employees look for.  The best employees almost inevitably choose employers who adopt people-oriented management practices tailored to their employees' needs.  But what are their needs?  Researchers told us that employers who frequently tell their employees "thank you" or "well done" could have the same motivational effect as giving them a pay rise of one per cent!  Indeed, the two little words of "Thank you" are sometimes better than a pay rise.  But don't get me wrong.  You cannot substitute pay rise by mere verbal or written compliments (although your Chief Financial Officer may like to think so).  Appropriate monetary rewards and recognition of good performances are complementary to each other and both are indispensable in modern human resources management.

     So what is the situation on the ground?  According to a survey of 1,000 workers conducted in the UK by a consulting firm, one third said they did not get thanked at all when they did well, and a further third said they were not thanked enough.  In both cases, staff said that they felt undervalued, meaning they were less likely to exert themselves and, naturally, were more likely to look for employment elsewhere.  So, directors and CEOs, let us be more generous in praising your employees!  Don't hesitate to give them a timely pat on the shoulders where appropriate.

Family-friendly employment practices

     Thirdly, many enlightened employers realise that employees will work whole-heartedly and contribute their best only if the employers acknowledge the importance of family responsibilities of their employees and help them perform their family roles.  The Centre for Social Policy Studies of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University found in a survey of some 550 employees with children studying in primary schools that the employees hoped they could work less overtime; rest on weekend; have flexible leave to cope with examinations and school holidays of their children.  If you, as directors and CEOs, treat the well being of your employees' family as your own well being, and share their difficulties in their roles as sons or daughters, husbands or wives, or parents of children, you will definitely be rewarded with the loyalty of your employees who will, in turn, treat your businesses as their own.

Good people management practices and harmonious labour relations

     With the concerted efforts of all stakeholders, Hong Kong has been able to enjoy generally harmonious labour relations.  This is an important element underpinning our global competitiveness, economic prosperity and social stability.  In 2007, the Labour Department handled 21,822 labour claims and disputes, down 13% from the figure in 2006.  In the first eight months of this year, the number of claims and disputes was 13,493, down 12% on the corresponding period of last year.  In the last five years, our average man-day lost to work stoppages was only 0.57 day per 1,000 employees, which was among the lowest in the world.

     Despite this encouraging trend, we must not be complacent.  Given our economy's vulnerability to external factors, including the financial tsunami triggered by the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the US, the macro-economic adjustment on the Mainland, and the threat of economic slowdown in Europe, the road ahead for us will be thorny and bumpy.  We must stay vigilant and do our best to rise to the challenge.  Nevertheless, I am confident that, working together, we can facilitate the introduction of good people management practices in different workplaces and help foster harmonious labour relations in Hong Kong.

     Let me conclude by wishing the IIM continued success in the years ahead and everyone of you good health and the best of everything.  Thank you.

Ends/Saturday, October 4, 2008
Issued at HKT 20:00


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