AFTER HOURS: Technological advances and the drive to be promoted mean many aren't clocking off entirely when we go home.
AFTER HOURS: Technological advances and the drive to be promoted mean many aren't clocking off entirely when we go home. KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Aussies working too hard and we're headed for disaster

THE Australian work-life dream is dead and the latest generation of employees are heading for 30-something burnout by 2020.

They are the dire warnings from two leading social researchers who say we are all working too much.

Gone are the 9-5 days and clocking off on the weekends. For many of us, our working lives blend into the personal.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 47.4% of employees over the age of 15 in Sydney say they work more than 40 hours a week. In Brisbane it's 45.3%, Melbourne 45.5%, Adelaide 39.4%, Perth 46.4%, Darwin 51.8% and in Hobart 37.4%.

Technological advances and the drive to be promoted also mean many of us with connections to work emails aren't clocking off entirely when we go home.

KPMG demographer Bernard Salt said the "universality of technology” was leading to real risks of burnout.

"Twenty years ago when you finished work at 5pm on a Friday you wouldn't be expected to be across anything again until 9am on Monday,” Mr Salt said.

"Now you never really totally disconnect from work when there is the possibility that you might receive an email you need to check.

"I think there is capacity for burnout to occur among this up and coming generation of workers. If you've only ever known an environment where you need to check emails 365 days a year without a mental break then there is the real possibility you could be exposed to burnout.”

Australians working harder and longer and failing to disconnect from technology after work hours is in stark contrast to the situation in France, where employees have the legal right to avoid the boss on the weekend.

A new law dubbed "the right to disconnect” came into place from January 1 which afforded employees the right to legally not check emails after work hours. It complements an already standardised 35-hour working week, which has been in place since 2000.

Mr Salt said Australians had a culture of working long and hard and the only way Australians would ever consider implementing laws like France if there was a "trigger”.

"It might be the 30-something burnout syndrome of mid-2020s,” he said.

"The Australian culture is often of 'she'll be right' until it's not right and something is wrong.”

Australian National University researchers last week revealed they had found that anything longer than a 39-hour working week was detrimental to our health.

Lead researcher Huong Dinh from the ANU Research School of Population Health said about two in three Australians in full-time employment worked more than 40 hours a week, with long hours a bigger problem for women who do more unpaid work at home.

"Long work hours erode a person's mental and physical health, because it leaves less time to eat well and look after themselves properly,” Dr Dinh said.

Co-researcher Professor Lyndall Strazdins said there was a growing gap between people in full-time jobs working extremely long hours and those in part-time work who wanted more.

"Our research showed 39 hours is the sweet spot for people. It is good for people to be working but any more than that and their health starts to decline,” Professor Strazdins said.

Professor Strazdins said there needed to be an upper limit on working hours that were acceptable.

"Working longer hours has evolved into an expectation and it is seen as normal and heroic,” she said.

"There is a role for business, for managers and workplaces to change that.”

Social researcher Mark McCrindle said the Australian work-life balance dream was dead and that rising house prices and cost of living pressures were resulting in employees working longer and longer hours.

"I think the whole Aussie work-life-family dream is under serious review in this nation,” Mr McCrindle said.

"The idea of a 38-hour-work week is dead and in many capital cities most workers are working much more than that often on top of a stressful, long commute.

"In Australia we are working too much.”

Mr Salt said people's lifestyle choices - like smashed avocado breakfasts and cafe culture - were also driving the idea of "wage slavery”.

"We are working hard but we are also spending hard and it's a question of how sustainable it is over time,” he said.

At Google, the culture is one of balance. Their offices are known for being kitted out with gyms, meditation stations, gaming rooms and they let employees choose when they want to come to work.

At some offices, you can even bring your dog to work with you and employees are given access to apps to help them sleep better.

Google Asia Pacific director of people operations Siobhan Lyndon said it was important to continue to question if we had the balance right in Australia when it came to work and home time.

She said Google employees are encouraged to work hard, but with an emphasis on balance.

Employees are encouraged not to check emails outside of working hours, similar to the policy in place in France.

"I think giving permission to employees to not have to respond to work email outside of their normal working hours is a positive thing and something we also encourage at Google. We don't want employees to feel stressed that their work is never finished,” Ms Lyndon said.

She said technology shouldn't be seen as a bad thing in terms of our working culture and can actually help employees manage their time better,” she said.

"I think technology has the power to further revolutionise the way we work and it's a matter of employers embracing it and allowing employees more freedom to choose where and how they work.”

THE 40-PLUS-HOUR WEEK

Sydney: 47.4%

Brisbane: 45.3%

Melbourne: 45.5%

Adelaide: 39.4%

Perth: 46.4%

Darwin: 51.8%

Hobart: 37.4%



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