Staying an extra hour at work here or there doesn’t seem like much, but according to new research, working long hours adds up to $71.2 billion in unpaid work each year.
“The average full-time employee on a 38-hour contract works 42.25 hours per week,” says Mike Roddy, director of client engagement and talent solutions at Randstad. The organisation conducted the study as part of their Employment Brand Awards. The survey consisted of 10,000 people and was aimed at determining what makes an employer of choice.
What goes into working long hours? Behaviours like staying late to hit deadlines or complete projects, or companies doing more with less contribute to this figure. Plus, contrary to some popular opinions about Aussies, this is also a hardworking country, says Roddy. “People put in the discretionary effort to get things done,” he explains.
That’s not to say everyone is happy about working long hours: One-third of employees would leave their current employer for a position with better work-life balance, says Roddy. Attrition is just one of the risks of this trend, though.
The obvious side-effect is burnout. “Working this much overtime is not sustainable,” he says. “Employers might think it’s great to see employees working these extra hours because it means they are engaged, but in most cases those extra hours don’t equal more productivity.”
Presenteeism, or when an employee is at work in name only, is another risk that can negatively impact business outcomes and employee wellbeing. One side-effect that many businesses don’t consider, though, is how long hours and extra workloads affect the company’ reputation.
“It can and will damage your employer brand,” says Roddy. “With social media, there’s a more conscious candidate base that will check what people say about working there. These things do get air.”
In fact, organisations with a strong employer brand have 28 per cent lower staff turnover and 84 per cent of people would leave their current job to work for a business with a better reputation, according to the research.
There are some remedies to keep long, though. On one end of the spectrum, countries such as Sweden have famously implemented a six-hour work day, and France has had a 35-hour work week since 2000. This is not to say that such measures would apply – or work – here, but “if we have one-third of employees looking to move in the next six to 12 months, it might be time to start doing some things differently,” Roddy says.
To start, HR might consider an audit of how employees spend their time. Some things to look for are how work is distributed across the company, how long it takes employees to complete tasks and areas where there might be gaps. Not only will this shine a light on where those extra hours go, but it will also reveal some bottlenecks within the organisation that restrict productivity.
Leaders need to also make sure employees have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. If there is a breakdown in communication between managers and employees, that’s asking for trouble, says Roddy. “The number one reason people leave is if they have a bad relationship with their managers,” he says. “You need those managers that will tell people ‘Go home, that’s enough for today’.”
This is also an excellent opportunity for leaders and employees to collaborate on a solution to working overtime, Roddy adds. People have different ideas about ideal work arrangements, so Roddy suggests canvassing the team to see how working long hours affects them, and what options they would like. This can include flexible work options, days in lieu or some other compromise.
“There are times when we have to work late hours, but that has to be balanced by kick-backs,” he says. “You want employees to stretch, but there needs to be a balance.”
“If your people feel they are working in a culture where work and personal time is respected, you will have satisfied, productive and more engaged employees,” says Frank Ribuot, CEO for Randstad Australia and New Zealand. “Allowing and even encouraging staff to consistently work additional hours for ‘free’ during what should be leisure time, with no real acknowledgement of the extra time investment, will have a big impact, particularly in regards to employee attraction and retention.”
Although leaders need to be upfront about letting workers off the hook, he adds that the onus is on employees as well. If an employee is struggling with work-life balance, they need to speak up and alert managers to the problem. Having both parties take responsibility not only makes it acceptable to voice concerns about working unpaid overtime, but it also contributes to a great workplace culture.