Something in Australian workplaces needs to change. New research by The Australia Institute and beyondblue shows that more than half of Australia’s workers are unhappy with their working hours. Initial findings in the Hard to get a break? report show that:
• Of those who feel ‘overworked’, 1 in 4 experience anxiety
• 3.3 million ‘overworked’ Australians experience loss of sleep
• 5.1 million employees eat their lunch while working
• 25% of employees checks work emails and answer work calls outside of work hours.
The research also shows that Australians are working longer hours without a corresponding uptick in productivity. The amount of unpaid overtime workers have donated to employers has jumped from $72 billion in 2009 to $110 billion this year.
Go Home on Time Day, to be held on 20th November, is an annual initiative of The Australia Institute and beyondblue aimed at promoting mentally healthy workplaces and the importance of work/life balance.
Head of Workplace Programs at beyondblue, Therese Fitzpatrick, says it’s vital that employers and employees recognise the direct link between longer working hours and mental health. “For 17% of women and 13% of men who experience depression, this can be directly attributed to job stress,” she explains. “If someone is experiencing anxiety or depression then it has implications for the workplace in terms of absenteeism and reduced productivity.”
Workplace culture plays such a big role in how employees do their jobs, Fitzpatrick says, explaining that Go Home on Time Day is a light-hearted way to start a serious conversation. “We don’t just want it to be one day that people go home on time,” she says. “It’s about starting that conversation so that people become more aware of the impact of longer working hours, and thinking about keeping work and life in balance.”
Life outside of work enables us the opportunity to relax and unwind, explains Fitzpatrick. And it has direct benefits for the workplace too. “If you’ve got employees who are engaged in things outside of work and learning in different ways, you’re going to end up with better employees that are more motivated and have more to bring back into the workplace.”
Stacey Ashley, Executive Coach and founder of Ashley Coaching & Consulting, agrees, adding that one of the things that contributes to a person’s overall happiness is their ability to feel like they’re in control of their time when they’re working, and when they’re not. “By managing that for yourself you’re able to influence the balance between work and home in a way that’s right for you.”
So, how can workers feel that they are more in control of their time? According to Ashley, you need to create a new mindset. “Recognise the fact that it’s your choice,” she says. She has these eight practical tips to help you work smarter, minimise distractions and go home on time:
- Make a conscious choice
Take responsibility for leaving work on time. Decide before the workday begins what time you want to get home. Make a commitment to yourself each day. It may not be a consistent time each day but make a conscious choice to be in control of when your workday ends.
- Plan ahead
Start the day with a mindful approach and work out the best way to invest your time. Plan ahead and set timelines. What do you need to deliver? When do you need to deliver it? How much time do you need to do it? If you don’t plan you have no way of knowing how big your workload is and how long it’s going to take you to complete.
- Organise and compress meetings
Set aside specific times during your day that are meeting-free, e.g. no meetings prior to 9.30am. Every hour-long meeting can probably be reduced to 45 minutes. Those 15-minute increments add up during the day. Compress 30-minute meetings to 25 minutes even if all it does is create walking time between one meeting and the next.
- Don’t let email control your day
Allocate time to process email and do it efficiently. Flicking between email and work is inefficient, distracting and impairs focus. When you finish responding to emails, shut down your email on all devices and do some planned work. Make clear choices about how you’re spending your time during the day. Allocate parts of your day to specific tasks as opposed to having it all integrated.
- Set new expectations
It’s up to you to set the new environment. Make sure you have agreements with your colleagues and manager, and set expectations of when you’re at work and not at work. Be clear about your availability so there is a clear delineation. Have the same conversations at home so that everyone understands what to expect and when you’ll be available outside of work.
- Important versus urgent
Sometimes urgent things aren’t the best things to work on. Important things are. Ask yourself: which is going to have highest impact, which is the most important? A lot of people spend time working on something because it’s “noisy” instead of doing the things that actually makes a difference.
- Learn to say no
Consider which meetings you accept invitations for. Does the meeting have an agenda? Do you even know what the meeting is about? Also be clear on the role you are to play in a meeting; are you there to receive information, give information or to make a decision? If it’s not any of these roles then why do you need to be there?
- Time off
You can’t operate full steam ahead 100% of the time. You need quieter periods to rest and recover. Change the pace at which you work by doing different types of work. Prioritise weekends and holidays so you can re-energise.
Focus on outcomes, not hours at work, Ashley advises. “Optimise your time at work in order to optimise your time outside of work.”