Unpredictable work hours take their toll

by Rose Sneyd04 Dec 2012

Australians work longer hours than many in the developed world. However, work stress appears to be related more to an inability to work those hours desired, and the unpredictability of work hours, rather than the quantity of hours worked.

These are the findings of a study just released by the Australia Institute entitled An unhealthy obsession? The impact of work hours and workplace culture on Australia’s health.

Half of respondents to the Australia Institute study, authored by Richard Denniss and David Baker, report that they would like to work different hours to those that they do, and one fifth report that they work unpredictable hours. In fact, 2.2 million report that they have little or no idea what time they will finish on any given day.

The result is that half of Australians are dissatisfied with their hours of work 

But is this a problem? Denniss and Baker argue that a lack of satisfaction with working hours leads to various ill effects, including stress and anxiety, lack sleep, and an inability to meet personal commitments. “More than 3.2 million Australians report that their working conditions are a cause of stress and anxiety, 2.9 million have experienced a loss of sleep as a result of their working arrangements and 2.2 million Australians report that their work has an adverse impact on their personal relationships,” they wrote in their conclusion.

Down the road, they continued, stress and overwork can lead to depression and heart disease, which have huge costs for employers and society more generally.

On the other hand, “perceptions of security and predictability of work, and satisfaction with hours or work were strongly linked to the absence of ill effects”, they wrote.

Suggestions arising from the study:


  • The authors stressed the need for improved communication between employees and employers.
  • “Employees should make a greater effort to discuss their work-life preferences and expectations with their family, colleagues and manager.”
  • “Employers should make a greater effort to act on the feedback they receive from their staff in order to increase staff satisfaction, reduce staff turnover and reduce the costs of absenteeism.”
  • The authors also suggest instituting a nationwide survey on employee satisfaction in organisations with more than 100 employees. “The collection and publication of such data would provide significant benefits to…existing employers who provide a health workplace culture.”


  • by Claudia Pitts 4/12/2012 12:02:53 PM

    I'm a PhD student at the University of Sydney, with the Ageing Work and Health Research Unit. My PhD looks at a similar issue for older workers. My thesis (and several other publications from researchers in our group) found that irregularity of hours was important - but perhaps more important was whether you had control over the irregularity. That is, irregular hours aren't that bad if the worker can say when they start and finish, but they can be quite detrimental to wellbeing (especially work-life conflict) if the worker has no control.
    Great to hear these issues are being considered!

  • by mrd 4/12/2012 12:15:53 PM

    I am in a leadership role in the hospitality industry and it is challenging to find a happy medium between rostering fro the needs of the business to those of the staff. This is where the irregularity of the work hours come into being. Does anybody have any suggestions as to how this could be overcome.

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