Get a life? Sorry, no time

I'm on call 24/7. And even on holidays my phone doesn't get turned off. I'll take calls on annual leave, on my honeymoon … Three in the morning, two in the morning, five in the morning … my daughter often says, 'Tell your work you're busy with us.' I say to her, 'I wish.'

THE male worker from NSW who vented his frustration in Time Bomb, a new book about our struggle to achieve work-life balance, is not alone.

Since John Howard made his infamous ''barbecue stopper'' comment in 2001, work-life balance has deteriorated for many workers, according to the book.

Flexible hours, part-time work, telecommuting and technology have not lived up to their promise of liberating workers from the daily grind. Instead, they have allowed work to encroach on home life, leaving many workers at breaking point, said Professor Barbara Pocock, director of the Centre for Work + Life at the University of South Australia, who wrote Time Bomb with colleagues Natalie Skinner and Philippa Williams.

''The issues of commuting, the demands of the job and the demands of the home; the book really tells us that those pressures are not going away despite the fact that we have been talking about them now for a decade,'' Professor Pocock said.

Despite various public campaigns to leave work on time, the typical full-time employee in Australia works 70 minutes of unpaid overtime a day, according to 2009 research by the independent Australia Institute.

And for all Tourism Australia's efforts to get us to take a break, we have 129 million days of annual leave stockpiled.

The statistics in Time Bomb, to be launched on Tuesday, paint a picture far removed from Australia's relaxed and comfortable image.

One third of Australian workers spend more than 45 hours a week at their jobs, according to the 2010 Australian Work and Life Index survey of 2800 people .

On top of that, research from the Australia Institute shows Sydney commuters spend close to five hours a week getting to and from their jobs.

The pressure does not ease up at home, with women spending an average of 33 hours and 45 minutes a week on unpaid work while men spend an average of 18 hours and 19 minutes per week on such chores, according to the Bureau of Statistics.

It is no surprise that workers, particularly those with young children, often feel overwhelmed by their workloads.

The bureaus's figures show that 61 per cent of women and 47 per cent of men in Australia are ''often or almost always rushed or pressed for time''. That rises to 70 per cent for women with children under the age of nine.

Time Bomb notes that flexibility at work can be a ''useful servant and a demanding master''.

''One woman made the comment about how grateful she was to have flexibility because she could run out of the office, pick her child up and take him to soccer and then go back to work,'' Professor Pocock said.

''And you think, well, yes that's great. You're a great mother and you have a great boss, but that's bloody hard to do week after week.''

Similarly, the technology which has made it easier for us to work from home simply extends the working day for many people - what Professor Pocock calls the ''sneaking intrusion of the BlackBerry and the PC''.

Only 14 per cent of workers do any of their paid work from home, according to the ABS but, of those, more than a third are taking extra work home so they can catch up.

As one female administrative employee said: ''Since I've been able to work from home, I've probably been doing a bit more than what's required.''

Another part-time employee, who works two days a week, told the authors her days off were interrupted by work-related calls to the point where ''you're thinking about [work] five days a week''.

Putting solutions in place would take a lot of co-operation between the government and the private sector, Professor Pocock said.

Better transport infrastructure and urban planning would reduce time spent commuting, and improved workplace culture and stronger regulation of hours would aid productivity, she argued.

''It is really important to have a workplace culture which recognises that people have commitments outside work,'' she said.

''The growth in the services sector and in professional and managerial jobs has let hours run wild.

''We need a new approach to managing working time. To build a labour market where one in three people are working more than 45 hours a week is not a healthy way to run our labour market.

''It's not efficient and it's certainly not good for people's wellbeing.''

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