When it comes to working hours, New Zealand is among the least regulated countries in the OECD. Once, we had a 40 hour week, 8 hour day, but not these days. New Zealand workers work longer hours than any other country in the OECD, other than Japan. Bizarre as it sounds with our level of unemployment and under-employment, the only working hours regulation NZ has is in regard to meal and rest breaks, which is currently under attack from the NACts.
But working harder and more hours for less money during the recession is starting to take its toll. Job satisfaction is declining, with many workers — including top performers — saying it’s time to find a new job.
Of particular interest is the description of death by overwork in Japan – called “karoshi” and in China “guolaosi” which has become such an extreme problem that those countries have introduced legislation that allows surviving family members to sue companies involved.
In Japan, a typical karoshi victim is that of a businessman who dies at his desk after too many 80-hour workweeks. But several international studies (in Finland, Israel, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States) have shown both men and women are at high risk for “overwork” consequences — heart disease, obesity, insomnia and persistent fatigue, but women are far more likely to suffer mental health consequences, especially when they do not take holidays.
A recent US survey found that 40% of professionals are thinking about quitting their jobs. They’re tired of not being promoted, bosses that don’t share company goals, being overworked and having bonuses slashed.
And surveys in NZ ths week show that NZ employers made who deep cuts into their skilled workforce during the recession are now regretting it, because finding replacement workers is much tougher than they thought.
NZ employers are getting to the point where they have maxed out workloads for existing staff, with rising work hours for those who still have jobs.
The result? Too much hard work – whether unpaid or paid overtime — really does hurt (and kill) people. Workers’ lives have gone from bad to better to bad all over again. So, is it time to to ensure (again) that we don’t have to feel guilty (or fearful about losing our jobs) for taking time off?
With the National Government intent on selling the fourth weeks leave of annual leave and weakening the regulations around meals and rest breaks, I suggest that we are heading backwards, and perhaps toward a NZ version of karoshi.