I'm a worker... get me out of here!
By Fiona Smith on
26 July 2016
Oddly enough, we've become a nation of people who need to be told when to go home.
We donate about $128 billion in unpaid overtime every year, even though one-third of workers say they would like to work fewer hours.
According to progressive think tank, The Australia Institute, this kind of overworking has a negative effect
on stress levels, sleep, anxiety, mental health, relationships and physical health.
It would also be a mistake to believe employers are getting far more out of their people than they pay for. A study
of blue collar workers shows output per hour falls rapidly after 50 hours of work (49 or more hours per week is regarded as “very long” hours).
Limits on unpaid extra hours
While some employers overseas have started to put limits on unpaid extra hours, in Australia, it is still rare to find organisations with specific policies on overworking. However Sydney-based logistics software company WiseTech Global has put an overwork clause into its employment contracts.
Its CEO, Richard White, polices the issue personally by telling over-stayers to go home. He has said
he leaves at 6.30pm and is generally the last to leave.
Senior content director at marketing services agency Filtered Media, Jeanne-Vida Douglas, saw the overtime policy in practice when she previously worked at WiseTech and she now helps enforce reasonable hours at her present employer.
This is the way it works: If people come in early (the podcast team will start at 4am on some days), everyone else has a responsibility to encourage them to go home by 2pm, agreeing to not give them any work to do after that time.
At team meetings, there is an announcement about who is going home early so that the situation is clear.
“It makes sure people do take the time off they deserve,” says Douglas. The 18 staff are also given two days a year as YOLO days (you only live once) – the only stipulation is that they must share photos of what they got up to. They also get a day off for their birthdays.
The company founders and senior staff take those extra days too, validating the practice for the rest of the company.
Schemes to reduce overworking
Some other schemes to reduce overworking include:
Flexible rostering: At the Novotel Sydney Central hotel, a 152-hour monthly roster benefits the company and its staff, says its talent and culture manager, Alana Penny.
By bundling its 38-hour weeks into a full month, as part of its collective agreement, managers get flexibility to have staff when they need them most and employees get to go home early or come in late to make up for longer hours on individual shifts.
Penny says overtime costs have decreased since the system was introduced last year and employee engagement has risen.
Four-day work week: US Portland-based online adult education company, Treehouse, has a 32-hour work week. The CEO, Ryan Carson, works Monday to Thursdays and says he made the decision to cut hours by 20 per cent when he realised he would never be able to buy back the time with his own family.
Remove the desks:
At Dutch creative agency Heldergroen, the desks are winched up to the ceiling
at 6pm to prevent people from continuing to work.
Pay to go away: Software company Evernote offers employees a $US1000 bonus if they take a full week of holidays.
Don’t take your laptop home: At software company Menlo Innovations, employees are not given tech tools for remote work, which means they cannot take their work home. They are also forbidden from answering emails while on holidays.