Australians work some of the longest hours in the developed world and our shrinking free time is increasingly being polluted by paid work demands.
Stats from The Australia Institute reveal that Australian workers are 'donating' more than their annual leave entitlement back to their employers in the form of unpaid overtime. The average full-time employee works over an hour of unpaid overtime on a typical work day.
A 2010 survey into time poverty found that women (51 per cent) reported feeling more time pressure than men (46 per cent). This will come as no surprise to any mum reading this post.
In addition to working long hours for our employers, the typical mum then comes home to work at least half those hours again. While it shouldn’t be the case, childcare and housework is still largely the woman’s job in a heterosexual couple family, even for women who are working full-time.
The Australian Institute of Families Studies has researched the gender differences between parents when it comes to paid and unpaid work. They found that mums working full-time with a youngest child under five were spending an additional 3.6 hours on child care and 2.4 hours on housework a day. That’s an average of 6 hours on top of their paid (and additional donated) work.
When mums finally get some down time, usually very late at night, research shows that they suffer from the same ‘time pollution’ as the rest of the nation. Time pollution refers to periods or moments in which work pressures or commitments prevent us from enjoying or otherwise making the most of our non-work time.
In a workforce of 11.4 million people, some 6.8 million working Australians experience some degree of time pollution in any given week and parents of young children are more affected by work-induced time pollution than others. Twenty-six per cent of survey respondents with children under 18 in their household said that thinking about work always or often makes it more difficult to enjoy their free time.
There is little wonder that ‘tired’ or ‘exhausted’ is what most mums say (or at least think) when people ask how they are.
A three pronged approach from employers, government and workers needs to be rolled out to help mothers wrestle their time back.
Employers should provide a clear statement of expected hours of work, communicate existing flexibility arrangements and reconfigure staff roles to better balance preferred working hours, skills and productivity. The business case for this type of two-way flexibility is heavily evidenced and there is no excuse for inaction.
At a government level, Australia is only one of four OECD countries that doesn’t prescribe a working time limit. This needs to change.
Further, the government should adopt a ‘whole-of-government’ approach to the link between work hours, health and the provision of care and collect and publish better and more frequent data on work-life balance.
For us mums and dads, let’s start training our employers in what's acceptable ‘out of hours’. Switching on your ‘out of hours’ email message is a way to manage expectations. Further, fully explore the flexibility options that might already be available to you at work. Requesting flexible working arrangements under our ‘right to request’ laws will send a powerful message to your employer, even if you are knocked back. On that, recent research shows that the majority of requests are being accommodated.
These are all doable changes. What’s needed is a strong, united voice doing the asking. Join United Mothers today.