No rest for the wicked

16:00, Oct 19 2012
Charles Daily
AT THE COAL FACE: Charles Daily works over 50 hours every week, educating future generations.

The 40-hour week might still be standard practice on paper but in reality Kiwi workers are under increasing pressure to work longer hours, and have less opportunity to switch off work demands when they get a break.

New Zealand workers, many of whom are enjoying Labour Weekend this weekend, were among the first in the world to claim the right to an eight-hour day/40-hour week when, in 1840, carpenter Samuel Parnell won an eight-hour day in Wellington.

But figures show Kiwis, and their Australia counterparts, work longer hours than many of their OECD counterparts with 13 and 14 per cent, respectively, working long hours (classed as more than 50 hours a week).

That's above the OECD average of 9 per cent and higher than Denmark (3 per cent), Canada (4 per cent), Britain (12 per cent) , and the United States (11 per cent).

And experts predict that to increase further as more employees get smartphones and tablet devices, potentially connecting them to their jobs 24 hours a day.

Waikato University labour market expert, Dr William Cochrane, said that while the 40-hour work week still existed, there was a growing number of "overworked" people.


"There's an increasing number working in excess of 40 hours a week at both ends of the socio-economic spectrum - in both very high and very low-paid jobs."

His colleague, organisational psychology professor Michael O'Driscoll, said that while most people were still contracted to work 40 hours, in reality that didn't mean a thing.

"A lot of people carry their work around with them because now they have the technology to work anywhere, anytime.

"So you might not define it as being at work but you are still doing work-related stuff," he said.

"I suspect for a lot of people, especially professionals, that's more the case these days."

A global market place also meant people were working in a more competitive world, which pressured them to be constantly contactable, Prof O'Driscoll said.

But people did need to find the time to take a break from work.

"There's quite a lot of evidence in the work/stress literature to suggest that not having time off can be detrimental to people's health - both physically and psychologically.

"So we have to be a little bit careful not to let technology drive our lives," Prof O'Driscoll said.

Accountant Greg Harris, a partner at Deloitte Hamilton, said he was finding it ever harder to leave work at the door when he left the office.

While it was great for clients, there were times when people needed to switch off the technology and give themselves a break - especially while on holiday, he said. His staff would often stop work emails from being delivered to their smartphones, so they weren't tempted to check in while taking a break.

The increasing cost of living has also played a part in people working longer hours.

They're also working to an older age.

And the proposed youth wage of $10.80 an hour could exacerbate that.

Currently the median salary or wage in New Zealand is $806 a week - meaning youth would have to work almost 80 hours to reach that.

The latest quarterly New Zealand labour market report shows labour force participation rates have continued to rise steadily for those aged over 55.

The report suggests they must continue to work to sustain the income required to maintain basic living standards.

About 40,000 extra people came into this age bracket in the past five years - accounting for nearly one-third of the total increase in the labour force.

Work is also having more of an impact on how we use our spare time.

Golf Waikato Association chief executive Robin Fulton said that on top of people working more than 40 hours, the days they worked them had changed a lot in recent years.

"People used to work Monday to Friday, now they work Saturday and Sunday as well.

"I'm sure that wasn't the intention when the 40-hour week was introduced."

Mr Fulton said that while on average golf player numbers had increased over the years, the way in which people played had changed. "Club day" numbers had not kept pace with the growth in players.

"A lot of people aren't interested in the club days any more. They just get out and play when they can."


While most of us are only beginning to experience the strain of taking work home due to the rise of portable technology, there is one profession that has been grinding away for years.

They show up at 7.30am, deal with demanding clients all day and finally retire home just after 6pm. But it doesn't stop there.

Charles Daily works an absolute minimum of 50 hours a week.

In his vocation there is no vacation.

"As a teacher, you just never switch off," he said.

Mr Daily is a teacher at Frankton Primary School.

"My brain never shuts off when it comes to trying to come up with new lesson plans."

His typical day consisted of 6 hours of class time, along with a couple of hours in meetings.

Then comes the planning and preparations for lessons, marking of students' work and report writing.

"I would probably say that a teacher's work is never really completely finished, there's always something to be thinking about or doing."

Frankton Primary School assistant principal Glynis Knox said a lot of teachers were pulling 60-hour weeks, and had been for a long time.

"Most teachers are either going to school on the weekends, staying late on a Friday night, or doing as much as they can at home.

"When you're in the classroom you're dedicating all that time to interacting with the children, so the preparation and planning takes place outside the classroom hours," she explained.

Waikato Times