The Ideal Workplace debate

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workplace safetyWhen you are sitting in your office with the 3 o’clock blues, there is no doubt you haven’t dreamt of going home. Maybe you want to be home when your kids finish school, maybe you want to get a few more hours of exercise in a week or maybe it would allow you to get some more jobs done around the house?

For workers in Sweden, this dream has become a reality. Companies across the Scandinavian country are closing their offices early believing it improves workplace morale and productivity.

The Swedes believe the recipe for happier staff all comes down to people having the time to do what they want to do. A 6-hour working day allows for more time to be spent with families, exercising and socialising. Sounds like living the dream, right?

Australia on the other is moving in the opposite direction with average working hours for full-time employees increasing.

Industry experts are claiming that Australia is shifting towards a 7-day economy partly due to increased hours of unpaid overtime and the potential changes to Sunday penalty rates, bringing them into line with those on Saturday.

The 7-day economy comes with an increase in demand outside of the 5-day working week, as many full-time workers don’t have the time to utilise goods and services during the working week.

However, longer hours can cause workers to experience more stress and burn out which can lead to lower levels of engagement and higher worker turnover rates.

Not only can it affect worker productivity but longer hours can also affect our health. Research shows that people who work much longer hours are more likely to suffer more serious health consequences later in their life.

The Lancet published a study in September that analysed data from 25 studies monitoring the health of more than 600,000 people in Australia, the US and Europe for up to 8.5 years. It found people who worked 55 hours a week had a 33 per cent greater risk of having a stroke than people who worked a 35 to 40 hour week. It also discovered a 13 per cent increased risk of developing coronary heart disease.

In order to combat this issue it is suggested that less hours with fewer meetings would encourage workers to stay off social media and other distractions, having the stamina and energy to complete tasks quickly to a higher standard.

The latest company to take this approach on board is shoe company Zappos. In March, CEO Tony Hsieh, who lives in an on-site trailer, made headlines across the world when he announced that all bosses would be eliminated. Instead, there would be no hierarchy, and staff would act like entrepreneurs, with dynamic roles rather than “jobs”.

This progressive ethos has been a huge success. Zappos has annual sales of more than $1 billion and was acquired by Amazon for an estimated $800 million in 2009.

Hsieh, author of a memoir called Delivering Happiness, says he believes in “work-life integration” rather than work-life balance. Zappos staff have access to ping-pong tables, nap rooms, scooters, impromptu jam sessions, a fire pit, free beer and haircuts.

However, some workers have said that due to staff being encouraged to “choose their own career adventure”, there is no clear authority for decision making and no path for progression. Staff are never off-the-clock, attending meetings at 10pm on a Sunday, because there’s no longer a work-life divide.

Will we see this in Australian workplaces anytime soon? Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull this week said that Australia needs to create a more flexible workplace, regardless of whether the country reduces penalty rates or not.

“I think it’s very important particularly for someone in my position as the Prime Minister to be able to empathise with the position both of employers and of workers and understand that each have legitimate claims. But we’ve got to find solutions to create a more flexible, dynamic 21st-century economy out of which everybody wins.”

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