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  • Writer's pictureTommy Chan, Ph.D., PCC

Not Stressed but Desserts

Updated: Sep 1, 2018

For HK and its special population to thrive, it is high time for individuals and corporations to re-prioritize their resources and to invest in their well-being.

Hong Kong (HK) is a special place. Nowhere else in the world can claim the accolades of being the “tallest city,” having over 300 buildings exceeding 150 meters in height, holding the most expensive real estate market, and occupying the costliest parking lot in the world. Both HK men and women now enjoy the longest longevity, exceeding that of the long-held proud health statistics of Japan. The HK’s GDP per capita is ranked at the top tenth spot of the world, not to mention its next door neighbor Macau is poised to take the top position by 2020.

Yet, hidden behind these glimmering metrics are often unspoken stress-related health problems, which are widely noticed by mental health professionals. According to a recent survey by the Swiss bank, UBS, the HK workforce clocks up the longest weekly working hours, averaging 51.1 hours per week, among 71 cities worldwide. 20 percent of people spend 4-6 hours of working overtime and another 19 percent reportedly spend up to eight hours extra, according to another recent survey by the Regus, an office provider. 32% of working people were classified as having unsatisfactory mental health based on the government data in 2016, increased from 29% in the previous year. 60% said that mental health issues were pushing away talented staff, as surveyed by the University of HK in 2014.

Stress is continuing to wreak havoc in one’s physical health and sense of well-being in HK. Medical research provides ample evidence that stress increases the risk of conditions such as heart diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, hypertension, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems, asthma, etc. Therefore, one would not be surprised that the HK population’s quality of life is ranked as one of the lowest in the region. The city is consistently placed in the mid-70’s range among over 200 countries, as surveyed by the UN in recent years.

One may conclude, unfortunately, HK is a consistent “under-performer” in providing a high quality of life for its residents, despite the city’s stellar demographics in longevity – a high quantity of life.

This psychologist observes a few unique psychosocial and environmental reasons for the high stress in the HK workforce. They are:

ï Highly-driven and achievement-based working culture without wholesome values

ï Increasingly high rate of the breakdown of the family structure and divorce

ï High population density and small living space

ï Environmental pollutions and over-stimulations such as noise and light

ï Crowdedness in the public transportation system

ï High humidity and contrast between indoor and outdoor temperatures in summer months

ï Long and inflexible working hours in most cases

ï Transient nature of the expatriate population and difficulties to maintain steady friendships

ï Communication challenges such as indirect and non-transparent styles

ï High cost of living, particularly housing

One of the most common behavioral tools to screen for stress, the DASS, sheds light on the indicators of stress. Professional intervention may be required when individuals show a high degree of endorsement to the following DASS test items, especially when they interfere with one’s interpersonal and occupational functioning:

¬ I found it hard to wind down.

¬ I experienced breathing difficulties.

¬ I found it difficulty to relax.

¬ I felt down-hearted and blue.

¬ I felt I was close to panic.

¬ I felt I wasn’t worth much as a person.

¬ I felt that life was meaningless.

For HK and its special population to thrive, it is high time for individuals and corporations to re-prioritize their resources and to invest in their well-being. The Global Leadership Wellbeing Survey (GLWS), developed by two Australian psychologists, is a well-researched psychometric tools in ascertaining the well-being of the workforce. It would be meaningful for individuals and companies to make targeted efforts to improve on the GLWS’s underlying psychological factors. To better manage stress, it is advisable to develop further in these GLWS elements:

ϖ Authentic Relationship

ϖ Meaning

ϖ Purpose and Direction

ϖ Resilience and Equanimity

ϖ Vitality and Energy

ϖ Balance and Boundaries

ϖ Intellectual Engagement and Flow

Rating high on these elements would likely serve as a robust buffer of the adverse impact of stress. High scorers would also help improve one’s physical and psychological health, thus optimizing one’s work performance and life satisfaction.

Reversing the spelling of STRESSED gives us DESSERTS. Try it!


Trained at the Michigan State University, USA, Dr. Tommy Chan is a registered clinical psychologist practicing at the Matilda International Hospital and Matilda Medical Centre in Central. Qualified as an Executive Coach by the International Coach Federation (ICF), he regularly offers consultation to the local and expatriate business community on Behavioral Health and work performance issues. He is fluent in English, Cantonese and Mandarin.

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