Walking the tightrope: Have Australians achieved work/life balance?

by David Baker, Molly Johnson and Richard Denniss

Former Prime Minister of Australia John Howard described work/life balance as a “BBQ-stopper” in 2001. Since then, the term “work/life balance” has been part of the Australian lexicon, but just how well are Australians achieving it?

National Go Home on Time Day was launched by The Australia Institute in 2009 as a light-hearted way to start a conversation balance with Australian employees (11.6 million people) about the importance of work/life and the many significant consequences it can have on physical and mental health, relationships and communities.

Now in its sixth year, Go Home on Time Day continues to promote such conversations, and this paper seeks to measure: have Australians achieved work/life balance? The finding is that work/life balance continues to be an issue for many people with only three-out-of-ten people (3.4 million) reporting an improvement in the past five years.

Furthermore, Australians continue to work large amounts of unpaid overtime. Research conducted for Go Home on Time Day this year found that these ‘donated’ hours add up to almost $110 billion. If these hours were paid and allocated to Australians looking for work the unemployment rate could be zero.

In 2010 Australians were on average working 2.5 hours more a week than they would have liked. Only one-in-five workers reported they were working the hours they would like to. Unsurprisingly, the desire for fewer hours was stronger amongst people working long hours, whereas part-time workers indicated they would like to work more hours.1 The general desire for more work by some and less work by others highlights the need to balance the distribution of work hours across the labour force.

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