21 November was Go Home on Time Day, an initiative of The Australia Institute. Now in its fourth year, Go Home on Time Day provides an opportunity for raising awareness and stimulating discussion about the negative impacts of poor work/life balance. We invite people to join in and “go home on time” through our website www.gohomeontimeday.org.au . We also hold community events and release a research paper on workplace culture in Australia.
This year’s paper An unhealthy obsession: The impact of work hours and workplace culture on Australia’s health looked at the impact of irregular working hours. This research found that work stress is Australia is not only related to the number of hours worked, but a mismatch between the workers’ desired and actual hours of work, and the inflexibility of these arrangements. This is true for workers across the earning spectrum. Low income workers are more likely to experience work–related stress and anxiety as a result of inadequate or uncertain income while high income earners are more likely to experience stress and anxiety as a result of inadequate time to invest in sleep, exercise or family relationships.
The combined impact of dissatisfaction with the length of working hours, the unpredictability of working hours and the uncertainty about job security combine to cause around half of all Australians to express dissatisfaction with their hours of work, with around a quarter wishing they worked more; and a quarter wanting to work less. Around one in five Australians reported that they have little or no idea what time they will finish work that day, that means 2.2 million Australians are working unpredictable hours. Furthermore, a large number of Australians report that they do not feel secure about their work. That is, around 20 per cent of the workforce, more than two million people, feel uncertain about the security of their tenure, the security of their work hours, or both.
The research found that irregular working hours were linked to an increase in reported stress and anxiety. In the survey, of those respondents who felt uncertain about their work hours, 40 per cent believed their job was creating stress and anxiety. Of those who felt their work hours were predictable, only 25 per cent believed their job was causing stress and anxiety. Stress is linked to a vast array of illnesses and impacts, including anxiety disorders, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression. Overworked employees face a greater risk of accident or injury from fatigue than those employees who are working acceptable hours.
Why is this happening? It’s not always money. Forty-five per cent of all Australian workers, and more than half of all full-time employees, work more hours than they are paid for during a typical workday. Unpaid overtime is more common than paid overtime. On average, employees ‘donate’ 70 additional minutes each day on top of their prescribed working hours. This equates to 6.5 standard working weeks each year, per worker, offered to employers free of charge.
So if Australian workers are not motivated by financial incentive, why is this occurring? It appears that employees are more ready to work longer hours when they are insecure about the permanency of their current position. This insecurity causes stress and anxiety, and workers feel compelled to donate unpaid overtime to compensate for their perceived impermanence.
The research also shows that gender plays a role in a number of ways. Women work less hours of paid work than men. Men were more likely to report being influenced by their workplace’s organizational structure and women were more likely to report family commitments as an influence on the number of hours worked. Family commitments have a major impact on the hours worked. Women with children are more likely to work less than 30 hours per week than women without children (57 and 35% respectively) and conversely women without children are more likely to work 30 hours or more per week (61% and 42% respectively). The impact of family commitments is less obvious for men with the report finding men are more likely to report longer working hours if they have children. Gender also appears to play a role in the predictably of hours worked, with men reporting significantly greater levels uncertainty about work hours. Men are more likely to report that work interferes with family life while women report that family interferes with their work life.
It is telling that contentedness amongst employees in the workplace is higher for firms whose corporate culture values security, predictability, and a commitment to a work/life balance than for firms who offer more money. Changing the corporate culture of workplaces in Australia so that greater importance is placed on security, regularity and a work/life balance will reap considerable economic benefit to society. And as well, it will mean 2.2 million people are more likely to be home in time for dinner, be there to pick up their kids, catch up with friends or do whatever else is life, apart from work.
Kerrie Tucker and Cameron Amos,
The Australia Institute,