Our culture of overtime is costing us dearly



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About 13% of Australian worker are working 50 hours or more a week, putting themselves, and others, at greater risk.
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Joshua Krook, University of Adelaide

The story of Yumiko Kadota, whose gruelling schedule as a Sydney hospital registrar included clocking up more than 100 hours of overtime in her first month, has highlighted the punishing work schedules required in the medical profession.

Research indicates working more than 48 hours a week is associated with significant declines in productivity, more mistakes and more mental health problems. Yet the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons reckons working up to 65 hours a week “is appropriate for trainees to gain the knowledge and experience required”.

It’s an attitude that explains why a 2017 audit found more than 70% of surgeons in public hospitals were working unsafe hours. And it’s symptomatic of many areas where pushing the hours envelope is seen as part of the job.




Read more:
Working long and hard? It may do more harm than good


Last month, for example, a study by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau found almost one in four long-haul pilots reported working on less than five hours of sleep in the previous 24 hours – putting them in the risk zone where fatigue leads to impaired performance.

Meanwhile, two of Australia’s largest law firms are being investigated for overworking staff. At King & Wood Mallesons in Melbourne, lawyers working on the banking royal commission were reportedly sleeping in their offices overnight, too tired to go home. At Gilbert + Tobin Lawyers in Sydney, it is alleged lawyers were resorting to drugs and other supplements to cope with fatigue.

Other areas in which long hours are common are in mining, farming and construction. All up about 13% of the workforce – 19% of men and 6% of women – are working 50 hours or more, putting themselves, and others, at risk.

What’s the damage

After a century of “scientific management” you might think that more attention would be paid to the scientific studies on working long hours.

The relationship between work hours and productivity follows the economic law of diminishing returns. Productivity peaks at a certain point and then declines. Work too long and you get to the point where you’re achieving nothing; or are even doing damage.

Diminishing returns: author Mark Manson decided to chart his productivity over hours in the day in this fashion.
The Observer

This is what the research literature tells us:

  • After working 39 hours a week, mental health tends to decline.
  • After 48 hours, job performance begins to rapidly decrease. There are more signs of depression and anxiety, and worse sleep quality associated with long-term health risks such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
  • Working more than 10 hours a day increases the risk of workplace injury by 40%, and more than 12 hours a day doubles it.
  • Longer working hours harm relationships, erode job satisfaction and contribute to depression, including increased suicidal thoughts.

A rule made to be broken

All of this research shows there’s good sense in Australia’s federal Fair Work Act (s. 62) capping the standard work week at a maximum of 38 hours.

But that maximum is easy to flout. The act also says an employer can require an employee to work “reasonable” extra hours. Determining whether they are unreasonable depends on 10 factors, including a risk to health and safety, family circumstances, the needs of the business, compensation, the usual patterns of work in the industry and “any other relevant matter”.

The law says an employee can refuse to work more than 38 hours a week, but in practice that rarely happens.

You may be happy to put in more hours because you are compensated. You may even do it “voluntarily”, because you see it as a path to promotion, or the way to keep your job. You may be enmeshed in a “first in, last out” culture, where it’s a competition to show your devotion to your job through the number of hours you work.

As a result, Australians work an average six hours of unpaid overtime a week.

Gaming the system

Management practices can promote an overtime culture without explicitly flouting the law.

One way is to scrutinise an employee’s working hours, such as using a billable hours system. This is common in law firms and other professional services. Clients are charged by the hour (or six-minute increments, as is the case in law firms) for the time an employee spends working on a matter. It puts pressure on a conscientious employee to do any work not related to a client in their own time. An employee may also under-report hours so as not look slow or unproductive to a manager.




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Cheating workers out of wages is easier than ever


Another way is through using casual or contract workers. Such employment can result in workers doing more hours than what they are paid for, either because they have underquoted to get the job, or are working on a fixed contract where the employer has defined how long it should take, or they feel the need to prove their worth to ensure they get more work.

Changing attitudes

State and federal government agencies, including the Fair Work Ombudsman and Safe Work Australia have broad powers to investigate worker health and safety (including overtime).

But for those powers to make a difference, these agencies need more resources to actually do investigations and greater powers to issue fines and corrective measures to companies where overtime is endemic. There’s no reason hours auditing couldn’t be a more routine procedure, much like food health and safety regulators inspect restaurants.

But more than that we need a change in the cultural attitudes that promote long hours as necessary, acceptable or heroic – even when someone doing their job while overtired and fatigued, such as a surgeon or pilot, is downright scary.The Conversation

Joshua Krook, Doctoral Candidate in Law, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The costs of a casual job are now outweighing any pay benefits


Joshua Healy, University of Melbourne and Daniel Nicholson, University of Melbourne

Low wages growth has been a spectre hanging around the Australian economy for some time. In our series What We Earn we unpick the causes for this and why some workers might be feeling it more than others.


Workers aren’t being compensated as much as they should be for precarious work in casual positions.

One in four Australian employees today is a casual worker. Among younger workers (15-24 year olds) the numbers are higher still: more than half of them are casuals.

These jobs come without some of the benefits of permanent employment, such as paid annual holiday leave and sick leave. In exchange for giving up these entitlements, casual workers are supposed to receive a higher hourly rate of pay – known as a casual “loading”.

But the costs of casual work are now outweighing the benefits in wages.

Costs and benefits of casual work

Casual jobs offer flexibility, but also come with costs. For workers, apart from missing out on paid leave, there are other compromises: less predictable working hours and earnings, and the prospect of dismissal without notice. Uncertainty about their future employment can hinder casual workers in other ways, such as making family arrangements, getting a mortgage, and juggling education with work.

Not surprisingly, casual workers have lower expectations about keeping their current job. For example the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found 19% expect to leave their job within 12 months, compared to 7% of other workers. Casuals are also much less likely to get work-related training, which limits their opportunities for skills development.

The employers of casual workers also face higher costs. High staff turnover adds to recruitment costs. But perhaps the main cost is the “loading” that casual workers are supposed to be paid on top of their ordinary hourly wage.

Australia’s system of minimum wage awards specifies a casual loading of 25%. So, a casual worker paid under an award should get 25% more for each hour than another worker doing the same job on a permanent basis. In enterprise agreements, the casual loading varies by sector, but tends to be between 15 and 25%.

The practice of paying a casual loading developed for two reasons. One was to provide some compensation for workers missing out on paid leave. The other, quite different, motivation was to make casual employment more expensive and discourage excessive use of it. However this disincentive has not prevented the casual sector of the workforce from growing substantially.

Casual jobs aren’t much better paid

One approach in determining whether casual workers are paid more is simply to compare the hourly wages of casual and “non-casual” (permanent and fixed-term) employees in the same occupations. This can be done using data from the 2016 ABS Survey of Employee Earnings and Hours.

We compared median hourly wages for adult non-managerial employees, based on their ordinary earnings and hours of work (i.e. excluding overtime payments). If the median wage for casuals is higher than for non-casuals, there is a casual premium. If the median casual wage is lower, there is a penalty.

The 10 occupations below accounted for over half of all adult casual workers in 2016. In most of these occupations, there is a modest casual wage premium – in the order of 4-5%.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/9OfmG/2/

The size of the typical casual wage premium is much smaller, in most cases, than the loadings written into awards and agreements. Only one occupation (school teachers) has a premium (22%) in line with what might be expected.

Three of the 10 largest casual occupations actually penalise this sort of work. And overall for these 10 occupations there is a casual wage penalty of 5%. This method of analysis suggests that few casual workers enjoy substantially higher wages as a trade-off for paid leave.

Taking a closer look involves controlling for a wider range of differences between casual and non-casual workers. One major Australian study in 2005 compared wages after taking account of many factors other than occupation, including age, education, job location, and employer size.

All else equal, it found that part-time, casual workers do receive an hourly wage premium over full-time, permanent workers. The premium is worth around 10%, on average, for men and between 4 and 7% for women.

These results imply that most casual workers (who are in part-time positions) can expect to receive higher hourly wages than comparable employees in full-time, permanent positions. However, the value of the benefit is again found to be less than would be expected, given the larger casual loadings mentioned in awards and agreements.

It seems that while there is some short-term financial benefit to being a casual worker, this advantage is worth less in practice than on paper.

A recent study, using 14 years of data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey (HILDA), finds no evidence of any long-term pay benefit for casual workers.

The study’s authors estimate that, among men, there is an average casual wage penalty of 10% – the opposite of what we should see if casual loadings fully offset the foregone leave and insecurity of casual jobs. Among female casual workers, there is also a wage penalty, but this is smaller, at around 4%.

This study also finds that the size of the negative casual wage effect tends to reduce over time for individual workers, bringing them closer to equality with permanent workers. But very few casual workers out-earn permanent workers in the long-term.

Inferior jobs, but fewer alternatives

The evidence on hourly wage differences leads us to conclude that casual workers are not being adequately compensated for the lack of paid leave, or for other forms of insecurity they face. This makes casual jobs a less appealing option for workers.

This does not mean that all casual workers dislike their jobs – indeed, many are satisfied. But a clear-eyed look at what these jobs pay suggests their benefits are skewed in favour of employers.

Despite this, the choice for many workers – especially young jobseekers – is increasingly between a casual job or no job at all. Half of employed 15-24 year olds are in casual jobs.

The ConversationIn a labour market characterised by high underemployment and intensifying job competition, young people with little or no work experience are understandably willing to make some sacrifices to get a start in the workforce. The option of “holding out” for a permanent job looks increasingly risky as these opportunities dwindle.

Joshua Healy, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Workplace Leadership, University of Melbourne and Daniel Nicholson, Research Assistant, Industrial Relations, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Five tips to get the most out of your workday


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Drinking coffee at work has a range of benefits.
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Mary Barrett, University of Wollongong

Getting a lot done each day is about more than just having the right productivity tools and setup. It’s about taking care of your body and mind, and this starts even outside of the workplace. The Conversation

We all need strategies for increasing productivity; here are five to get you started.

1) Get a good night’s rest

The first key to productivity is plenty of sleep. Getting 7-8 hours sleep a night will flow through into your work, from sharper decision making and problem solving, to better coping with change.

It is not just the quantity of sleep that matters, but quality as well. You should try to stick to a regular sleep pattern.

Going to bed late during the working week and hoping to catch up with a sleep-in on the weekends may make you feel more productive, but you are disrupting your sleep-wake rhythms. This makes it difficult to feel alert and ready for work on Monday.

Get into a good sleep routine by setting a regular bedtime. Then avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other chemicals that interfere with sleep.

Limit light exposure – including from TV, phone and computer screens – in the evening. Eat, drink and exercise enough, but not too much and not too close to your bedtime. Make sure your bedroom is a calm place, and use it only for sleep and intimacy.

Shift workers may not be able to keep to a sleep routine, of course, and they need to be even more careful to get good sleep when they can.

2) Drink some coffee at work

Coffee helps you feel alert because it blocks adenosine, the main compound in your brain that makes you sleepy.

A study of US Navy SEALs found caffeine had a range of positive impacts beyond keeping you awake. Benefits ranged from increased alertness and reaction time, to improved learning, memory and even mood. The effects lasted from one to eight hours.

Another study found that caffeine speeds up how quickly we process words.

But coffee isn’t just effective on a chemical level.

Researchers at MIT found that scheduling coffee breaks so that the entire team took it at the same time increased productivity. When tested at a bank call centre, efficiency increased by 8% on average, and 20% for the worst performing teams. The benefit here came less from the caffeine and more from increasing the interactions between team members.

But before you rush out to grab a coffee, remember that in these experiments “a good cup of coffee” means black coffee. Research shows the levels of the beneficial antioxidants in coffee were higher and lasted longer in black coffee drinkers than for people who added sugar or non-dairy creamer to their coffee.

3) Take a break and do some exercise

Researchers in America have found that taking breaks during the workday is important for workers to replace workplace “resources” – energy, motivation, and concentration. These resources aren’t limitless, and periodically need “charging” by doing activities that require less effort or use different resources than normal work, or are just something the worker enjoys.

A break could be mean completely stopping work and doing something fun. An office-worker might go for a run, for instance. Or it could just mean switching tasks and doing something different, such as a supermarket shelver sitting down and doing paperwork.

The researchers also found it matters when you take your break. You will be most productive after a break if you take it early in the work day rather than later, when you are already tired.

But perhaps you should also carve out special times in the day for physical movement. Researchers in Sweden found that devoting some work time to physical activity increases productivity. The research found that as little as two and a half hours of physical activity a week led to more work being done in the same amount of time, and reduced absenteeism due to sickness.

4) Conquer procrastination

Procrastinating not only reduces your immediate productivity
by delaying work, but increases stress and lowers well-being. This can make your productivity even worse, later.

There are a range of relatively simple interventions you can do, such as eliminating notifications on your devices, only working for 15 minutes to get a project started, or creating smaller goals.

A classic remedy now supported by a University of Pennsylvania study is to divide tasks into smaller pieces so you can work through a more manageable series of assignments. Use the higher energy levels you have in the morning to do a small task you don’t feel like doing, such as phoning someone you have been reluctant to contact. You’ll give yourself the mood and energy boost that comes from a small achievement.

5) Do one thing at a time

Don’t be tempted to multitask. Our brains are not suited to dealing with multiple streams of information or doing multiple jobs at the same time. The more tasks we try to do simultaneously, the slower we complete them and the more mistakes we make.

Further, the research found that those who do multitask are more prone to becoming distracted by their environment.

By contrast, take that difficult phone call you just made. You gave it your full attention and finished it. Now, do something else important and then take a short coffee break, perhaps a walk. Your body and your mind will be in top gear and so will your productivity.

Mary Barrett, Professor of Management, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian Politics: 15 August 2013


Today’s brief look at Australian politics begins with an article that praises the work of independent MP, Tony Windsor.

For more visit:
http://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2013/august/1375315200/don-watson/praise-tony-windsor

Syria: Open Doors at Work


The link below is to an article reporting on the work of Open Doors in Syria and how you can help Christians under threat in that country.

For more visit:
http://blog.opendoorsusa.org/donations-work-syria/

Cricket: The Ashes Report – 15 July 2013


In the end it was a very close match that England won and Australia lost. The first test of the current Ashes series is over with plenty of controversy and action a plenty. It was a great game, though sadly it will be remembered for the controversy surrounding the DRS as much as for the game itself. But having said that, Australia really did a bad job in the way it used the DRS system, while England handled the DRS masterfully and full credit to them. With just 14 runs between the two sides, the second test has a lot to live up to following this match.

I can’t really make any useful comments on the English team, but as far as Australia is concerned I think it is time for Ed Cowan to be shown the door and for David Warner to return. Failing the return of Warner, who I believe has been sent to Africa with Australia A for some batting practice, perhaps it is time for the return of Usman Khawaja. The Australian batsmen really need to lift their game, because in reality the match was a lot closer than it should have been and they have the lower order to thanks for that – particularly the bowlers.

As for the bowling effort – work needs to be done also. There was far too much waywardness in the fast bowling ranks. Thankfully Nathan Lyon should be banished to the sidelines given the performance of Ashton Agar – a spinner who actually spins the ball and he can bat, which is very handy in the absence of a reliable upper order.