Australians dissatisfied with work-life balance

By Angela Dorizas

Australian workers are struggling to strike a balance between work and life, a national survey has found.

Launched today at an event hosted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), the fourth Australian Work Life Index (AWALI) revealed that Australians are increasingly dissatisfied with their work-life balance.

The annual survey of 10,000 workers was conducted by the Centre for Work and Life at the University of South Australia, in partnership with the SA and WA Governments.

It found that over the past four years, very little has changed in Australian workplace culture, with employees still failing to balance the demands of work and family life.

Launching the Index in Adelaide, ACTU president Ged Kearney said the pressure of work, casualisation and a lack of job security was putting workers and their families under enormous stress.

“It’s getting harder, not easier for working people and this is having a negative effect on children, our families and the whole Australian community,” Mr Kearney said in a statement.

“This report is a timely reminder that we work to live, not live to work.”

The situation was particularly tough for women. Among those surveyed, 60 per cent reported feeling consistently time pressured. Professional women were the hardest hit, with worse work-life interference than their male colleagues.

Managerial and professional workers were particularly negatively affected with poor work-life scores and long hours of work; and workers in service industries, including health and education, had the worse work-life interference.

The Index also found that Australians do not work the hours they would prefer. More than half of all workers surveyed worked more than half a day more or less than they would like to; one third of women working full-time expressed a desire to work less hours; and almost half of all fathers living in couple households said they were working more than they would prefer.

According to the research, long hours of work had a negative affect on the work-life relationship and working parents had the worse work-life interference.

In regards to the types of employment, casual work did not help Australian men and women to reconcile work and care and there was no evidence to suggest that self-employment enabled a better work-life relationship. Men working part time had a better work-life balance, but not so for women who struggled to balance the demands of part-time work and caring responsibilities.

Around six in ten survey respondents stockpiled their leave and one third of those did so due to work pressures. Their decision to not take a holiday resulted in worse work-life outcomes, particularly among working mothers.

Holidays, however, are still important for working Australians. The survey found that most workers would rather have an extra two weeks holiday than an equivalent pay rise.

The report made a number of recommendations for government and business, including: the implementation of more effective flexibility regimes; regulatory change to restrict working hours to no more than 48 hours on average, including overtime; strategies to reduce the burden on working parents; more supportive workplace culture, practice, management and leadership; increased leave opportunities and strategies to encourage workers to take their holidays;  and further research on the work-life relationship and the consequences for health and safety.

Read the full report: The Australian Work and Life Index 2010 [PDF]

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In my experience this problem also arises in the legal profession where a large percentage of lawyers express dissatisfaction with their choice of profession ;  75-80 per according to surveys.

Three organisations run useful camps where these issues are explored and addressed. I recommend them. Mankind Project ; Women Within ; Pathways Foundation.

Craig Leggat SC

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