Workplace stress on rise as employees work longer hours

Trying to establish a work-life balance is increasingly difficult as Australians work longer hours.
Trying to establish a work-life balance is increasingly difficult as Australians work longer hours. Contributed

AUSTRALIAN workers donate about $72 billion worth of unpaid overtime to their employers and work some of the longest average hours in the developed world.

But not today - today is National Go Home On Time Day, the day Australians are encouraged to say no to last-minute meetings, avoid out-of-hours emails and calls, and claim back some work/life balance.

Now in its fourth year, Go Home On Time Day is an initiative of The Australia Institute, a public policy think tank based in Canberra.

The day was conceived as a light-hearted way to start a serious conversation about the impact of poor work/life balance on our health, relationships and workplaces.

The Australia Institute's executive director Richard Denniss said for many Australians, leaving work on time was  harder than it seemed.

"Whether it's not knowing what time you're supposed to finish work, or feeling guilty if you're the first to leave the office, getting out the door can be a daily battle for many Australians," Dr Denniss said.

"National Go Home On Time Day provides at least one day of the year on which people can achieve a better work and life balance."

This year The Australia Institute is working with beyondblue, the national depression and anxiety initiative, to highlight the social and economic costs of job-related stress, which can lead to depression and anxiety. 

Beyondblue CEO Kate Carnell said overwhelming evidence showed a direct link between mental health and working conditions.

"Ensuring employees are not overloaded and have a good work life balance is one thing that business can do to improve mental health," Ms Carnell said.

"It's important employees see that good mental health is as important as physical safety in the workplace, and that good mental health in the workplace relies on good leadership, communication, support and balance."

One in two Australians would feel uncomfortable discussing issues about mental health with their manager, according to new research by The Australia Institute.

A new survey measuring the impact of work hours and workplace culture on Australia's health reveals there is an epidemic of workplace-related stress and anxiety, affecting about three million employees.

Dr Denniss said 43% of employees surveyed reported their managers were poorly skilled in discussing sensitive workplace issues.

"Australians work some of the longest hours in the developed world and the hours are becoming less and less predictable," he said.

Other key findings in the survey include:

  •  Employees of small businesses are far more likely to report feeling comfortable raising workplace issues with their manager than employees of medium sized and large businesses. 
  •  More than a quarter (27%) of respondents indicated that they considered that the ability to 'work flexibly' was a requirement of their workplace.
  •  Only 14% of employees report that their workplace discourages unpaid overtime.
  •  More than 2.2 million Australians head out to work each morning with very little idea what time they will knock off that night.
  •  3.2 million Australians experience stress or anxiety as a result of their working arrangements, with 2.9 million experiencing a loss of sleep and 2.2 million reporting adverse impacts on their ability to meet family commitments.

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The figures:

  • 6.8 million Australians have their personal time interrupted by mobile phones and work emails.
  • 2.2 million Australians don't know what time they will finish work as they head out the door in the morning.
  • 4.2 million Australians don't have time to exercise regularly, get enough sleep or go to the doctor when they are sick because of long work hours.
  • 4.8 million Australians find it hard to take annual leave at a time that suits them.
  • Australians donate around $72 billion worth of unpaid overtime to their employers.

How often do you do unpaid overtime?

This poll ended on 21 December 2012.

Every work day. - 33%

Three to four times a week. - 33%

Once or twice a week. - 6%

Never. - 26%

This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Topics:  the australia institute

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