The high health cost of overwork

A high number of Australians experience negative mental, general and social health consequences as a result of overwork, according to research released yesterday by The Australia Institute, in conjunction with beyondblue.

The report, Hard to get a break? found that overwork is becoming more common in Australia. Rising numbers of workers don’t take lunch breaks, don’t take their full leave entitlements and are not paid for overtime. Australia ranks 9th in the OECD for the number of hours worked per week with Australians averaging 43.2 hours per week.

The report found that, in 2013, around seven million workers (60 per cent) are not paid for the extra hours they work, compared to 45 per cent in 2009. In addition, 52% of Australians did not take their full leave entitlements in 2012. A significant number (3.8 million) of Australian workers routinely don’t take a lunch break, with one in two of them saying it’s because they are ‘too busy’.

 

After 20 years of governments pursuing a ‘flexible’ labour market, the report reveals that the majority of Australian employees are unhappy with their actual hours of work.

 

The health consequences of such overwork are physical (4.4 million Australians say they are missing out on time to exercise), mental (including stress, anxiety and sleep problems) and social (5.8 million saying work reduces the time they can spend with their family).

The report also says today’s blurred boundaries between work and home are associated with adverse effects including increased stress levels, burnout and poor physical health.

After 20 years of governments pursuing a ‘flexible’ labour market, the report reveals that the majority of Australian employees are unhappy with their actual hours of work.

As well as the overworked, the research also found many Australians experience poor health consequences including depression, sleep problems and high stress levels, as a result of being underemployed.

The report’s authors concluded that finding solutions to the problems of overwork and underwork is complex, but possible strategies include redistributing the unpaid overtime performed by the overworked to the millions of Australians who desire additional hours of work and commencing a national dialogue about smart technologies and the potential impact this may have on workers’ mental health due to the 24/7 nature of technology.

To read the report in full, click here.

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