So busy? Are we really working harder than ever?

One hundred and fifty years ago, Australian workers became the first in the world to secure an eight-hour working day.

Some recent studies suggest this may now be a relic of history and that Australians work the longest hours in the developed world.

But Professor Mark Wooden, of the Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, disagrees ... strongly.

"The idea we work the most hours in the world is absolute crap," he says.

"Lots of people work long hours and lots of people work short hours. We have a mix."

The idea we work the most hours in the world is absolute crap. Lots of people work long hours and lots of people work short hours. We have a mix

He argues that workers in Japan and Korea work longer than Australians and that comparing working hours between countries was an inexact science.

People tend to overestimate how long they work as a sort of "badge of courage" and find it difficult to estimate the hours they work accurately, Professor Wooden says.

"I don't think we can count," he says. "It's impossible to know. The study would need to be so invasive."

His research shows the number of Australians working 50 hours a week or more peaked in the mid-1990s.


"Over the last 10 years, the proportion of Australians working long hours has been dropping."

He recently researched the relationship between people's working hours and life satisfaction.

"It's very clear that how many hours you work has no impact whatsoever," he says.

People only become stressed by their working hours when they want to work more or less than they currently do.

Studies such as the Australian Work and Life Index show that more Australians are complaining of work interfering with their lifestyles.

But Professor Wooden says that, just because people say they want to work less, does not mean they would choose to do so.

"Many people say they want to work zero hours but they don't want zero income. Preference is an interesting thing," he says.

Brenton Prosser, a sociologist at the Australian National University, believes that not only are Australians working longer but that technological change has made work more stressful and pervasive as the old boundaries between work and leisure dissolve.

"The amount of additional work that Australians do is in the top two or three in the world," Dr Prosser says.

A 2009 study by the Australia Institute found that Australian full-time employees spend more time working unpaid overtime than they take in holidays each year.

Recent research has suggested that employer-provided smartphones and laptops make work inescapable.

Professor Wooden demurs again.

"They're allowing it to happen. I reckon people like it. The people who don't, don't have smart phones."

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