Does anyone actually work a standard 40-hour work week? Despite what research – and personal experience – tells us about the negative effects of working overtime, it’s easy to get sucked into the habit of arriving early and staying late. What’s more, most of these extra hours don’t receive equivalent remuneration.
A 2014 study from The Australia Institute found that the balance between work life and home life for four in 10 Australians was deteriorating. The average full-time worker is doing six hours of unpaid overtime each week, worth an estimated $9500 per person over the course of the year. Additionally, 42 per cent of respondents said the balance between their work life and home life had grown worse in the past five years, with more than 60 per cent saying laws are needed before this trend will improve.
Meanwhile, Sweden, a country known for its progressive culture and policies, is addressing this concern by setting a new standard for workplaces – the six-hour work day. Before you roll your eyes and denounce it as some Scandinavian quaintness, the results could show this is more like Scandinavian greatness.
Due to the cut in working hours, businesses have adjusted to increase efficiency without compromising quality. Meeting times are kept to a minimum, employees are encouraged to spend less time on social media and other distracting tasks, and performance is judged based on project completion rather than hours worked (where appropriate). Some industries in Sweden that require staff outside of normal business hours, such as healthcare or engineering, have hired more staff to fill rosters.
Perceptions of increased focus and employee happiness aren’t exactly scientific measurements, so only time will tell if the six-hour work day actually leads to tangible (ie financial) benefits. But while we still don’t know the exact, measurable positives of this change, it’s pretty easy to prove why Australia’s work system – and that of most of the Western world – is so detrimental.
A recent study from University College London analysed the work habits and health of more than 600,000 men and women from across Europe, the US and Australia. They found that those working 55 hours or more per week increased their risk of stroke and heart disease by 33 per cent compared to those working a more balanced 35 to 40 hours per week. They also experience greater levels of burnout and workplace stress, says Professor Peter Gahan, director of Melbourne University’s centre of workplace leadership, in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald.
What will it take for Australian workplaces to hop on board? Gahan says that the business community needs to be brought along. “We’re at a significant juncture in terms of how to reconfigure the way that we work and the sort of working hours and working arrangements that we enter into,” he says, along with a review and amendment of the Fair Work Commission.
So although the extra hours put in by employees might seem like a win for businesses here, in the long run those extra hours add up to high employee turnover, reduced productivity hour-for-hour, increased absenteeism and sickness, and ultimately a less committed, unhappier workforce.