Aussie Study: It's Time to Shorten the Workday

August 22, 2006 ( - Workers who relentlessly pursue their career goals may also be in line for a physical decline, according to a recent study done in Australia.

According to a news report on the Human Resource Executive Online Web site, that was a key conclusion of a study by Dr. Caroline West of Sydney University that was published by the Australian Law Reform Commission Journal. While being successful at work can boost a worker’s self-esteem, income and social ties, workdays lasting longer than six hours can also result in anxiety, exhaustion and a poor quality of life, according to West.

In light of her findings, West said a six-hour workday could combat the difficulties encountered because of the trend toward extended workdays she finds pervasive among Australian workers, according to the news report. She says nearly one-third of Australian full-time workers work more than 48 hours a week and 30% work 50 or more hours.

“We’ve structured our lives so the majority of our waking life is devoted to work, which might bring us more money but doesn’t make us more fulfilled,” West told an interviewer in a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, according to HREOnline. “So long as there’s a trend to work these really long hours you’ll continue to see the plateauing and decline of people’s well-being.”

Those in the industry do not see a shorter workday being applied in the US. Any possibility of a reduction in the length ofUS workdays would be dependent upon “the nature of the job and the demographics,” according to George Faulkner, a principal at Mercer Human Resource Consulting’s health and benefits practice in Princeton, NJ.

Faulkner says professionals view a job as a career and “something really fulfilling” while some employees who are “just earning a paycheck” may opt for a minimum number of hours “as long as they can maintain the standard of living they want,” according to the news report.

West also believes a four to six hour workday could increase productivity, but industry professionals disagree. “With a long concentrated period of time to work on something, you can get a lot more done rather than doing it piecemeal,” Faulkner says. “A lot of it is just a financial decision,” he says. If workers’ salaries or number of hours are reduced, “They can’t afford to do that.”

In theUnited States, there continues to be increasing interest in part-time work and “phased retirement,” Faulkner says. “Overall there is a need for more flexibility” in structuring work scenarios, he says.