Once famed as nation of slackers having a “sickie” whenever the surf was up, Australians are now have the longest week in the developed world. An increasing chunk of the working day is unpaid overtime. According to the Australia Institute, the average full-time employee is now working 70 minutes of unpaid overtime every day.
A report released by the Institute uncovered the following alarming statistics.
• There is 2.14 billion hours of unpaid overtime, across the nation’s workforce, annually.
• This equates to $72 billion of unpaid wages.
• 6% of our economy depends on free labour.
• The unpaid overtime is equivalent to 1.16 million full-time jobs.
• 45% of Australian workers, and more than half of all full-time employees, work more hours than they are paid for on a typical workday.
• 44 % of people who work unpaid overtime said that it is ‘compulsory’ or expected’ and another 43% said that it is ‘not expected, but also not discouraged’.
So why do we do it? The level of coercion is subtle. Most felt that if they didn’t work the extra, unpaid hours ‘the work wouldn’t get done’. In a time of increasing unemployment, a culture of under-employment still exists especially in the white-collar sector. Are employers deliberately taking on less staff than required to meet the needs of the workplace? While the report may not be spelling that out directly, my client-base appears to reflect that this has been a common practice for many years.
The impact on personal health is escalating. The report sites a study commissioned by the Queensland Department of Industrial Relations in 2001 that linked longer working hours with a rise in ‘lifestyle diseases’ such as alcoholism, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Other than alcoholism, psychologically longer working hours have also been associated with a rise in substance abuse, anxiety, depression and insomnia.
According to Forbes the characteristics of a workaholic include – doing work yourself rather than asking for help, getting impatient when something or someone takes too long, being irritated if interrupted while working, multitasking such as working while eating lunch, perfectionism, creating self-imposed deadlines, having difficulty relaxing and feeling guilty when not working.
With the pressure to fill the employment gaps at work, it’s easy to become an accidental workaholic, the more time you spend working – the less perspective you have about the situation.
Unlike other addictions, being a workaholic has garnered misguided respect. A workaholic doesn’t see themself in the same league as an alcoholic or drug addict. However the impact on health and family life can be equally as devastating. Over-working, or not being able to relax and fully engage with life because you are always thinking about work is a series psychological problem. Theories around workaholism, describe it as a coping strategy, that may mask underlying issues like low self-esteem, depression or even obsessive-compulsive disorders.
The first step to changing the problem is getting out of denial. Whether you are an active or “passive” (believing you have no other option but to work like this) workaholic does not matter. Like all addictions, asking for help is the best place to start.