Work-life pressures put squeeze on Aussie workers
by Will Venn
The latest Australian Work and Life Index (AWALI) survey undertaken by UniSA’s Centre for Work + Life reveals that Australians’ work-life outcomes have barely improved over the past five years, and have worsened for full-time working women.
Increased intensity in work demands and the difficulties faced by women who juggle work with care responsibilities are key concerns that arose out of the survey of almost 3000 working Australians.
The Big Squeeze: Work, home and care in 2012 report also indicates that recent government reforms designed to relieve work stress are associated with positive outcomes, but have yet to make a significant impact on many workers.
Centre Director and co-author of the report, Professor Barbara Pocock (pictured above), says since the publication of the first AWALI report in 2007, the global financial crisis and the continuing instability of financial markets has influenced Australians’ work and family lives.
“Legislation including the Fair Work Act 2009 and the introduction of rights enabling greater work flexibility and paid parental leave have also been introduced in recent years in Australia,” she says.
“However, the latest survey indicates that widespread work-life interference has remained persistent since 2007 and for particular groups, especially women working full-time, this situation has worsened.”
Full-time women’s dissatisfaction with their work-life balance has almost doubled (from 15.9 per cent in 2008 to 27.5 per cent in 2012) while men have reported little change.
The survey indicates that the ‘struggle to juggle’ work with parenthood is persisting, with 41 per cent of mothers in full-time employment saying they would prefer to work part-time – the largest proportion since 2007.
“Women’s rate of participation in the work place is increasing, yet despite profound social changes, the male breadwinner/female caregiver model of the 20th century is alive and well in 21st century Australia,” Prof Pocock says.
“The Australian policy environment has adapted to working women only around the edges, to provide part-time work and parental leave, for example, but it has not fundamentally transformed to reflect the different life-time work and care patterns of most women.”
For men too, the report indicates that the impact of policy changes, particularly the introduction of the right to request (RTR) flexible working arrangements from employers, have yet to be felt in the working environment.
Of those surveyed, only a third were aware of RTR and 15 per cent felt that flexibility was not possible in their workplaces.
The report suggests that changes to workplace cultures and practices, and wider publicity to managers and leaders about the benefits of working flexibility could encourage more workers to take up RTR.
That includes workers who are carers of the aged or those with disabilities, and who have the same levels of work-life interference as parents of young children, as well as those without caring responsibilities who are not happy with their current work arrangements and would like more flexibility.
“Two years after its introduction, RTR has not served as a climate shifter,” Prof Pocock says.
“As occurred before RTR was introduced, around a fifth of workers request flexibility and most of them are women and mothers.
“In a diverse workforce that is also ageing, there is a pressing need for reform that extends flexibility to all workers, regardless of their life circumstances.
“In many workplaces flexibility is difficult, especially where standard working arrangements are dominant.
“Improving things will require basic knowledge of rights to request, and workers’ confidence that their request will be treated seriously and not result in negative consequence.”
Launch of the 2012 AWALI report
The 2012 Australian Work Life Index (AWALI) was launched on 28 September by the Federal Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, the Hon Mark Butler MP, at an event hosted by CEDA (Committee for Economic Development of Australia), together with the Centre for Work + Life and SafeWorkSA.
L to R: Ian Hardy AM (CEO Helping Hand Aged Care), Hon Mark Butler MP (Minister for Mental Health and Ageing), Professor Barbara Pocock, Claire Hutchinson (Centre for Work+Life), Katrine Hildyard (Branch Secretary ASU).