How to go home on time 365 days a year

Nov 21, 2016

The message behind the Australia Institute’s annual Go Home on Time Day is pretty straightforward – work your hours and leave when you’re supposed to. But if you’re among the 50 per cent of Australian employees doing unpaid overtime on the regular, how do you make this annual event a permanent fixture?

Now in its seventh year, Go Home on Time Day (Wednesday 23 November 2016) provides a pulse check on Australians’ working patterns and attitudes. This year’s survey of 946 employees found that more than 50 per cent had worked more than their contracted hours the previous week – on average, those surveyed had clocked up six hours of unpaid overtime.

The study also found that:

  • one in three employees want to work fewer hours than they do currently
  • nearly half of all full time workers are feeling overworked
  • work is contributing to anxiety for one in four workers
  • Australians work the 12th longest hours in the OECD and 'donate' $128 billion in unpaid overtime annually to their employers.

But if long hours and stress are the problem, what’s the solution?

The starting point is recognising that sustainable hours are good for everyone – employees, for obvious reasons, but also managers and employers. It’s also important to acknowledge that constantly working overtime is a symptom of under-resourcing or poor planning – both of which are damaging to the long-term health of the business.  

If you’re a manager or small business owner, remember that you and your team will do your best work when everyone’s feeling on top of things, rather than burnt out and resentful at doing 12-hour days for two weeks straight.

Here are three common reasons people end up clocking up extra hours – and some tips everyone can try to make leaving on time the rule, rather than the once-a-year exception.

 

1. “I’ve got too much work and staying back is the only way to get things finished.”

This is the biggie (literally) and the most obvious reason people work overtime – they can’t get everything done within their contracted hours.

Working extra hours during peak periods or hectic weeks is unavoidable. But if employees are regularly staying back just to get through ‘business as usual’, this should be identified as a workload or workplace culture issue that needs to be sorted out.

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How to fix it 

Workload issues are best tackled as a partnership between an employee and their manager. Sit down together and have an honest discussion about what needs to get done, what can wait and if you can re-prioritise any tasks.

Make sure you catch up regularly to review deadlines and targets. If work’s getting on top of you, speak up early – managers, it’s up to you to listen and respond.

If you’re a small business owner, the same principles around prioritising apply. Set yourself realistic deadlines and repeat the mantra “good enough is good enough”!

 

2. “Heaps of my time is chewed up with meetings, meaning I don’t have time to get anything done.”

We’ve all been there – walking out of a meeting thinking: “That’s an hour of my life I’ll never get back.”

Collaborating and talking things through with colleagues can be an excellent use of time; unnecessary, unfocused meetings can be the biggest thief of our precious resource. 

How to fix it

This infographic has some excellent tips for better meetings, as well as three great questions everyone should ask themselves.

  1. Is a meeting necessary?
  2. Who really needs to be there?
  3. How can we focus on actions? (Clue: create a clear agenda, send materials in advance and capture action items)   

 

3. “I want to develop my career and show my boss I’m a hard worker.”

Wanting to prove yourself and take on more responsibility is great – but not when it leads to burning the candle at both ends, and eventually burning out.

How to fix it

The key here is playing long game and recognising that a sustainable work-life balance will get you further – and help you maintain your progress. Keep an eye on your stress levels and make sure you take time out to relax and spend time with friends and family.

 

Next steps for managers

If you’re a manager and your staff members are regularly working overtime, it’s time to make a change. Start by asking your team about sticking points and get their ideas on how you can streamline processes or prioritise tasks.

Making sure everyone goes home on time this Wednesday is a great first step – we're encouraging every business in Australia to take up the challenge and maintain this habit!

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