In delivering the report, co-convenor of the W+FPR Sara Charlesworth stated that Australian women who become mothers tend to work less while conversely men work increased hours, leading to an unbalanced, polarised workplace.
HR professionals can play an important role in countering this disparity, believes Alan McDonald, managing director of employment law firm McDonald Murholme.
“HR managers can ensure that an employment contract contains a provision that the employee is expected to work ‘a small amount of overtime in accordance with the needs of the employer’,” McDonald told HC Online. “That immediately alerts the parties that the expectation in writing is that the overtime will be small. It also covers the situation when employees require some overtime to meet peak loads, etcetera.
“Secondly, a company policy can be implemented that covers excessive overtime, by providing an employee with a day or so of recreational leave to allow the employee to revitalise.”
Australians work some of the longest hours in the world (an ABS report of 2015 found that more than 300,000 people in the national workforce were working 70 hours per week or more), with McDonald pointing to such factors as technology and the high cost of living as among the reasons for this.
The culture of long hours and being “always on” was perhaps reflected recently by noted businessman Solomon Lew, who praised ANZ
CFO Michelle Jablko for being available seven days a week for 18 hours a day. Lew’s view on working hours is widespread, believes McDonald.
“Solomon Lew’s attitudes are very common, and he felt proud to espouse them. It is old fashioned and unprofitable to think that you should be reluctant to call an employee during after hours or on the weekend, outside of working hours.
“It would be interested to see a university conduct a study on whether or not the rise in social media conduct, so commonly discussed in the media, is in any way correlated to this change in behaviour towards work.”
McDonald added that some of the worst cases of excessive hours are in those roles where wages and salary are related to hours worked.
“Whenever there is an incentive-based remuneration plan, there is an inducement to an overambitious employee to work excessive hours,” he said.
“These hours can extend to the early hours of the morning and to public holidays. It is very tempting for some employees to become addicted to work, lose other interests and become over-dependent on work as their only mainstay in life.”
A recent report from the Work + Family Roundtable (W+FPR), a national network of 34 academics, recommended firmer restrictions on maximum working hours, in order to allow men to spend more time with family and for women to participate more in paid work.