For working carers, it often feels the work never stops.
After coming home from a day in the office, it can be difficult to give oneself permission to sit down, relax, and enjoy that glass of red, or episode of a favourite TV show. There’s just no end to the things you have to do.
It can also be harder to say “no” at work. Working carers often require flexible work arrangements, and although such arrangements are increasingly protected as legal entitlements, many feel vulnerable about their job security. “If I refuse to take this extra assignment home, will my manager stop letting me leave half an hour early to pick up my son?”
It’s a story that’s unfolding across Australia: we are working longer hours than ever before, and stressing out more than ever before.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics Characteristics of Employment Survey (2015) found that 5 million of Australia’s 7.7 million full-time workers work more than 40 hours per week. Of these, 1.4 million work more than 50 hours a week.
But there are signs that our collective tolerance for overwork is wearing thin – especially among the younger generation of workers who have a strong preference for flexible working hours and a healthy work/life balance. Working carers stand to benefit from that sensible approach, too.
As younger generations demand flexibility and healthy lifestyles, such working habits will become normalised. Working carers will have to worry less about asking for reasonable accommodations once everyone else is doing it too. So we say “bring it on!”
Such trends are already growing. The survey found that one in three Australians already work from home in some capacity, and most of these do so for reasons besides catching up with the office workload, for example to be with family or for convenience.
And it’s not just workers who will benefit. Businesses also stand to enjoy productivity gains from not demanding more than humans can sustainably deliver. More and more research is finding that productivity plateaus after a standard working day, or even after 5–6 hours in creative or intellectually demanding roles. Putting in 70 hours, you won’t get more done than you would in 55 hours, according to research from Stanford University.
Tech giants like Google are smart to this, and have started incentivising employees with generous levels of freedom, and frequent breaks from the treadmill for creative thought or play.
Such employers increasingly rank as top destinations preferred by the brightest university graduates. Competition for the best talent may slowly see such practices spread to other companies in order to attract top talent – at least in industries growing fast enough that companies have the cash.