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Media Coverage

Interview with Prof Lam Wai-fung (I): SDG8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth

10 May 2021

HSBC Living Business Awards has been committed to providing SMEs in Hong Kong with a sustainable and responsible business model that benefits our society and environment, enhances productivity and fosters competitiveness. “Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth” – part of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals – is one of the two main objectives of the 2021 programme.


Professor Lam Wai-fung, Director of the Centre for Civil Society and Governance, The University of Hong Kong, said that although sustainable development is often associated with environmental issues, Goal 8 has demonstrated that economic growth is also a key principal.


Furthermore, economic growth is not only about seeking higher profits and building more infrastructure. It is also about creating decent jobs for citizens, providing them with a sense of satisfaction and allowing them to achieve their goals and create a fairer and more harmonious society.


Professor Lam said he believed that most Hong Kong SMEs are limiting themselves because of a perceived lack of resource and restricted scalability. Because of this, SME business owners tend to prioritise their efforts in profit generation and let larger enterprises to take lead in sustainable development.


However, once business leaders pay attention to the essence of sustainable development and the small details that it may entail, they may well discover a project that offers an abundance of opportunities that are beneficial to all stakeholders. Lam cited the example of a real estate agency in the northwestern side of the New Territories. The firm was eager to provide job opportunities for women who may be prevented from working full time due to family commitments.


When it came to hiring of front-line agents, the company put emphasis on knowledge of the neighbourhood and social connections over education or other qualities.


At the same time, housewives who wish to make the best use of the few spare hours they had from looking after children or housework would look for temporary jobs with flexible working hours. With their familiarity of the nearby area and their unique social network within the community, these housewife real estate agents were able to put their strengths to good use when introducing properties to potential clients.


Professor Lam also encouraged businesses to become more inclusive in their hiring policies and consider the possibilities offered by integrated employment. Taking laundry services as an example, he said the highly repetitive tasks stopped most people from entering the industry.


However, for autistic people, their patience and dedication is well suited for such jobs. Employers may worry that hiring disabled people would require major renovation of workspaces but often it may only need minor alterations. Management could stay open-minded when leading the company into an integrated working environment.


Lam said corporate management needed to understand that providing decent work environments do not necessarily burden company development. Therefore, companies should identify ways to ensure both pathways thrive side by side to boost productivity instead of counting their pennies.


Caring for an employee’s welfare,offering rewards, and organising office activities like birthday parties could build the sense of belonging without the need for lavish spending. Career planning to ensure job satisfaction is also beneficial.


Moreover, as SMEs are smaller in scale, they are more flexible when it comes to catering to employees’ needs. For example, when an employee wishes to pursue further studies in large companies, strict company policies may become hurdles. SMEs, on the other hand, are more amenable to offer flexible working hours to balance the needs of employees and business operation.


Professor Lam said one of the crucial factors for decent work is to create a working environment with work-life balance. According to Lam, some SMEs in Hong Kong are devoted to providing a healthy working culture for their employees. This includes doing away with overtime work so that staff could spend more time with their families. So, rather than feeling exploited by their employers, staff are able to adopt work as part of their lifestyle and enjoy a sense of belonging.


During the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, offering a work-from-home option was another way to achieve this goal. Such staff-friendly practices, Professor Lam feels, empower staff and make them more willing to go the extra mile when necessary.


During many years of communicating with SMEs and observing their practices, Professor Lam said he gained confidence that companies showed a willingness to implement decent work concepts. It is only in the execution that they fell short.


The HSBC Living Business Awards offers a platform for SMEs to benefit by joining their peers in gaining knowledge and passing on their expertise. By exchanging valuable experiences, SMEs can join forces and strive to ensure decent work and economic growth can be an integral part of their future.

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