Fiona Smith Columnist

Fiona writes on workplace issues, including management, psychology, workplace design, human resources and recruitment. She is a former Work Space editor at The Australian Financial Review and has also covered property, technology, architecture and general news.

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Company bans over-work

Published 29 October 2012 10:20, Updated 10 April 2013 07:40

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Company bans over-work

Our perception of what constitutes a normal work day has now become so twisted that people, weirdly, feel a sense of pride about working through the evenings and into the night.

It makes them feel indispensable. But what they are doing is, effectively, donating all their free time to their employer (and saving their bosses from having to hire more people).

What this does to families can be seen in the fact that every third marriage ends in divorce and about 29 per cent of people never marry. The effect is also played out in the rising number of WorkCover claims for stress.

So, how refreshing it is to hear of a company that takes the prospect of over-work so seriously that it has put preventative measures in its employment contract. If people find themselves working more than 40 hours per week on a regular basis, they are required to go to their manager to sort it out.

At logistics software company WiseTech Global in Sydney, CEO Richard White, says work is such a huge part of life, it should be made to be comfortable.

“Sometimes you work longer than 40 hours, but it shouldn’t be a habit,” he says. “Usually, it is the quality of the work, not the quantity that matters.”

White says he has only had to take action once, when someone working on a project was overdoing things. “We gave him two months off to de-stress and calm down. He had just got himself into a bind, no one had asked him to work those hours,” says White.

White says the over-work clause in the employment contract stems from one of the company’s values: “We all recognise that success requires every team member to strive every day for the best outcomes but we do not ask people to impale themselves on their work commitments.

“Creativity is fired by emotional energy. No life balance, no creativity at work.”

With 235 people at the head office at Alexandria, other measures to look after employee well-being include an on-site gym and fitness instructor, healthy breakfasts, quality toiletries in the bathroom, “beer O’clock” Fridays and funded anti-smoking treatments.

There are also vehicles that pick up workers from train stations to take them to work, taking the hassle out of the daily commute. The company uses its software so that employees can track where the buses are and how many people are on board.

WiseTech also funds self-development and tertiary study for employees.

According to a survey of 1500 people by insurance company AIA Australia, 70 per cent of employees say companies should do more to promote healthy living to employees.

Employees suggest their bosses can best do this by reducing overtime and stress, assisting with medical check-ups and offering healthy food in canteens or in the office.

AIA’s Healthy Living Index says Australians say the most important drivers of healthy living are: sufficient sleep (64 per cent) and eating healthily (61 per cent), a happy frame of mind (59 per cent), and good family relationships (57 per cent).

General manager of life insurance at AIA Australia, Damien Mu, says over-working can affect people’s physical and emotional health and their productivity. “It affects their family as well,” he says.

Long commutes to work also have a big effect on quality of life, with 22 per cent saying such daily trips have a big impact on their ability to have a healthy life.

Mu says organisations are still trying to figure out how to encourage a healthy work/life balance in ways that are also practical for the businesses.

Sometimes, however, it comes down to uncomplicated measures such as leading by example (with managers going home at a reasonable hour), or by simply suggesting to someone that they should take some time off because they have been staying back late.

“You can take the initiative to have a simple conversation,” he says.

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