During one of the many, many, “How was your Christmas/ New Years/ isn’t this weather fantastic” chats that are par for the course in January, a friend muttered that she had the sneaky suspicion that work was getting in the way of her real life. I thought, you’ve got a point there, Sheryl*. Sadly, the New Zealand Government doesn’t agree with me.
Kiwis.. we think of ourselves as No. 8 wire innovators, Everest conquerers. We pride ourselves on our open-mindedness, our relaxed approach to life. Yet, in reality, we are dragging the chain behind the rest of the world when it comes to our work/life balance and the cracks are starting to show.
Everyone’s favourite Everest conqueror. Sir Edmund Hillary
Despite advice from the powers that be (Aunty Helen and the UN), the New Zealand Government is sticking to its guns, refusing to introduce legislation to limit the number of hours the humble Kiwi can work per week. In doing so, we’re falling behind the rest of the world with workplaces that are stuck in the dark ages of arbitrary hours, set days and places, while others move towards flex-time (or less time) and a results-based approach.
On average we Kiwis work bloody hard, 1724 hours a year according to OECD figures. That’s 175 more hours than the Danes, 86 more than those in the UK and a whopping 380 than the Germans. While no one could accuse the Germans of being lazy, they’re sitting pretty with around 9 weeks more holiday than your average Kiwi.
So what’s it all in aid of? Health? Wealth? Happiness? There’s evidence a plenty to show that this isn’t the case. In fact, that ‘work hard play hard’ attitude can get us into hot water and we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to research to back it up.
You wouldn’t think it if you wandered onto New Zealand immigrations website. It lures off-shorers to our land of ‘easy living’ with “If you’re looking for a more balanced lifestyle, you’ll find New Zealand’s got the recipe just right.” Do we.. really?
A recent study in the journal PLoS ONE shows that people that work more than 11 hours a day have a more-than-doubled risk of a major depressive episode, compared with people who work the more-standard seven to eight hours a day.
Another from Otago University links long hours to alcohol addiction. The study found that those who worked a 50+ hour work week were three times more likely to take to the bottle.
The daily (and nightly) grind is taking a toll. A survey of nearly 1500 kiwis, released by Hudson Recruitment this week, showed that 41.6% of employees were feeling more stressed than a year ago and 77% were shouldering more responsibility and working longer hours.
And those findings join a host of others suggesting a link between clocking serious hours and heart disease, heart attacks, higher blood pressure, lower life expectancy.
If that wasn’t enough reason for you to rethink burning the midnight oil at the office consider the added extras- sitting all day is linked to a higher likelihood of developing a chronic disease such as diabetes.
Lack of sleep is also a kicker and can lead (to name but a few) to decreased memory, increased weight gain, a higher chance of having a car accident, diabetes, irritability, serious cardiovascular health problems, and possibly cancer (no biggy). According to The National Sleep Foundation we should be shooting for at least 7-9 hours. So get home, keep work out of the bedroom and get some decent shuteye.
We’re burning out our employees, the long hours+ill-health combination also means lost labour in the long-term and higher medical costs for employers, the government and you ( the tax-payer).
But doesn’t working harder make you richer? Nope.. it turns out productivity fuels wealth, not hours worked. Hence why so many companies overseas are turning to flexible approaches (more on that next week).
While the hours=results mentality works for robots in a production line, surely we’ve moved on. Germany (the powerhouse of the EU) and their extra 9 weeks holiday proves this if nothing else.
In the corporate world, staying at work late amongst the underlings is almost a competitive sport; does it change the work output? Invariably, no. people can only pump out so much good work a day, outside of this is when mistakes occur. These mistakes can be dangerous. A recent study of hospital interns found that young doctors who worked longer shifts made almost 36 percent more serious mistakes, like giving the wrong dose or the wrong medicine altogether to patients.
But why not just work hard, play hard? (Says the Government) To that I say, what use is the working if you don’t have the time or energy to do the playing? And where’s this work-life balance recipe you speak of?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating the life of a sloth, but ask yourself.. is work getting in the way of your life?
10 hours plus.. it’s not healthy, it’s not making us wealthy.. go on workaholics, go home, have dinner with your family, sleep for eight hours, take that holiday… maybe one day we will be as powerful as the Germans.
** names have been changed to protect anonymity