Our culture of overworked professionals: Is it working?

Wednesday December 18, 2019

Work hard, play hard is a phrase we often hear used to describe our culture. We get the job done but also know how to unwind.  Having this kind of balance is positive for many reasons. It can lead to increased productivity at work and loyal employees. Good mental health, well-being and overall quality of life. In theory, hard working employees should have a sense of purpose for their work with adequate time to reflect and relax.

Why is it then, that analysis tells us we are amidst an epidemic of overwork? And that 43% of workers report having work-related mental health issues? Data like this suggests that the reality of our culture might not be matching up to the work hard, play hard slogan after all.

Overtime is on the rise, up more than 30%, and with each new day comes a new headline about an employer being investigated for underpayment of employees. Australian workers are overworked and underpaid. Not only is this bad for them, but it is also very bad for employers and carries legal consequences.

Risks associated with overworked employees

A substantial amount of coverage on the topic of the underpayment of employees has focussed on vulnerable workers, often young or not aware of their rights and typically undertaking shift work. Retail and hospitality have come under fire, but the problem with underpaid overtime reaches far and wide and can also be uncovered in businesses employing professionals.

Many professional roles carry an expectation of working overtime, but many businesses are not keeping records of this and could be at risk. Additionally, are overworked professionals working to the best of their ability if they are burnt out and not compensated adequately? It’s possible that they are suffering from physical and mental stress or already looking for another job.

Mental health starts to decline after working 39 hours a week and poor performance creeps in beyond 48 hours. So whilst employees are working longer, they are not necessarily working better.

Effective management of overtime

Employers who require professional employees to work overtime would do well to audit the way in which this is currently being managed in their business. With underpayment a hot topic and the risk of losing good employees a realistic threat, now is as good a time as any.

An important starting point would be to revisit employee awards and the National Employment Standards definition of reasonable additional hours, before implementing overtime. It’s important to note that although not all professional roles are covered by an award, many are. For example, the Professional Employees Award (PEA) that covers scientists, engineers and IT employees, and requires full-time employees to be compensated for regular overtime.

An audit for your business can also consider adequate record keeping of hours worked. Keeping records can help your defence should you ever be investigated or faced with a Fair Work trial.

Talk to employees as part of your audit. Set up regular review meetings to keep track of productivity and provide staff with the opportunity to tell you if they are struggling with their workload. By identifying and resolving issues early on, you can prevent the exit of a hard-working employee and avoid a costly and lengthy recruitment drive for a replacement.

Bring back the work hard, play hard ethic and make your company a desirable place for skilled workers. Making time for company socials, that everyone can enjoy, can lighten the load that comes with overtime and be a positive job perk for employees.

Professional HR advice

If the thought of auditing your company’s overtime processes keeps you awake at night, call us. We can be there to support you or even take the lead, allowing you valuable time to focus on the key business objectives that matter the most.  

Preventing People Problems

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