An unhealthy obsession: The impact of work hours and workplace culture on Australia’s health

by Richard Denniss and David Baker

Australians work some of the longest hours in the developed world – substantially longer than their counterparts in Denmark, The Netherlands and Norway. For many Australians though, work stress is related not to the number of hours worked, but a mismatch between the workers’ desired and actual hours of work, and the inflexibility of these arrangements. This is true for workers across the earning spectrum.

A well-functioning labour market would be expected to produce a closer match between the hours worked and workers’ desired hours. But many Australian workers indicate their difficulty in negotiating more flexible, predictable or suitable hours with their employers.

It is clear that relieving the impact on individuals, families and communities of inflexible hours of work starts with communication – not only do Australians work long hours, but around one in five Australians also work unpredictable hours, with around 2.2 million Australians reporting that they have little or no idea what time they will finish work that day.

Furthermore, a large number of Australians report that they do not feel secure about their work. That is, around 20 per cent of the workforce, more than two million people, feel uncertain about the security of their tenure, the security of their work hours, or both.

The combined impact of dissatisfaction with the length of working hours, the unpredictability of working hours and the uncertainty about job security combine to cause around half of all Australians to express dissatisfaction with their hours of work, with around a quarter wishing they worked more and a quarter wanting to work less.

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