Close to one-third of workers in Australia, mostly men, are in their workplace for 50 hours per week, a health researcher says.
Today is Go Home On Time day, the sixth year the awareness day has been organised by the Australia Institute, with support from the Beyond Blue organisation.
The head of public health at the School of Population Health at Adelaide University, Dr Dino Pisaniello, said the little research that had been done on the need to achieve a work-life balance showed long work hours affected not only the individual but their family.
“About 30 per cent of people, in males anyway, are working 50 hours a week [and] that’s the statistic that’s of concern – the number of people who are working two hours a day extra,” he told 891 ABC Adelaide.
“That might be because of the demands of the job, it might be because they like their job, but for those people who don’t think it’s helping them in a career sense it may be introducing all sorts of health-related issues.”
Dr Pisaniello said research showed the health dangers extended beyond the individual doing the long hours in the workplace.
“Fathers, for example, who are doing this extra time [find] that cuts into the work-life balance leading to things that are adverse for children,” he said.
“We know from research that we’ve done at the University of Adelaide that unsocial working hours does lead to [people being] overweight and obesity in children – that’s an indirect effect, but it’s all related to the issue.”
“Those [long] hours may constitute a health problem with regard to stress and [participation] in physical activity,” he said.
“If we’re sitting in a chair for long periods of time that’s a problem in itself. We know that from various pieces of research.
“Work we’ve done suggests that the culture in an organisation can influence health. Australia ranks pretty highly in terms of long working hours, probably about fourth on OECD criteria, so it’s certainly an issue in the culture, if you like.”
Dr Pisaniello said workers often perceived a need to stay longer on the job because of “how organisations see long hours in terms of their operations”.
“I guess in some respects workers like to think they’re helping the team out,” he said.
The researchers have found that self-employed and casual workers faced particular stresses from the hours their jobs involve.
Dr Pisaniello said more research needed to be done before conclusions could be drawn about how health was affected by competing demands of work and home life.
“I think in terms of fatigue, if you’ve got two or three other responsibilities apart from going to work, that can certainly lead to issues and stress,” he said.
He urged workers to consider whether current workplace laws could be used to help ease the demands they faced.
“There is an out, if you like, under the current legislation workers can request more flexible working arrangements – that certainly does help but it is a question of whether the employer will then agree to that,” he said.
“Both women and men should take up the possibility of asking those questions.”
As for the intrusion of work demands into home life, he said technology was not always a bad thing.
For example, dealing quickly with a work issue from home via phone or email might make the next working day smoother, he said.
This article first appeared on ‘ABC‘ on 19 November 2014.