The relentless overtime creep worrying Australian workers

Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images.

Many Australian workers have come to the point where they will look for another job if they keep getting loaded up with extra hours.

Overtime is increasing in Australia and most of it is unpaid, according to a study which surveyed both management and staff.

Recruiters Hays say overtime increased in 32% of organisations over the past year, with 63% of non-award staff not being paid for those extra hours.

Of the 2,950 organisations surveyed, just 8% managed to reduce overtime over the 12 months.

Of those organisations where overtime increased, 38% said the weekly increase was 5 hours or less. For 31% the weekly increase was between five and 10 hours, while for 11% it was more than 10 hours.

A separate website poll by Hays of 3,592 Australian workers found that 71% would look for another job if overtime became excessive and 57% would do so if the overtime was unpaid, while 14% would do so even if they were paid for overtime.

The final 29% said overtime is part of the modern workplace. They say they would stay where they are even if the extra hours became excessive.

Science has found that working long hours puts your health at risk. Research from the Australian National University (ANU) shows the work limit for a healthy life should be set at 39 hours a week.

The death by suicide last year of a 24-year-old Japanese woman, after working 105 overtime hours in one month, sparked an international debate on long working hours.

“Long work hours erode a person’s mental and physical health, because it leaves less time to eat well and look after themselves properly,” says Dr Huong Dinh from the ANU Research School of Population Health.

For women, Dinh says the healthy work limit is 34 hours a week once their other commitments are considered.

For men, it is up to 47 hours a week because they generally spend less time on domestic duties than women.

Generally, Australians, unlike most of their colleagues around the world, place a higher value on the flexibility of working conditions than on pay.

Work/life balance has for some time been the number one driver for Australian employees on the lookout for career opportunities, according to the Global Talent Monitor survey from best practice insight and technology company, CEB.

Recruiting experts Hays say that part of the reason for increase in overtime is that some skills aren’t readily available in the work force.

“Rising business activity and the shortage of certain skilled professionals is posing a challenge for some employers, many of whom are turning to their existing team to ensure expanding workloads are completed on time,” says Nick Deligiannis, managing director of Hays in Australia and New Zealand.

“But employers should seriously consider the financial, physical and emotional impact that overtime — particularly when it becomes excessive — has on their employees.

“In many organisations there could be a good business case for adding addition headcount – either permanent or temporary – to get through peak periods and relieve pressure on existing staff.”

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