The Effect of Working Hours on Workers' Non-Work Time

Researcher Sally Gatt, Daphne Simoens, Emma Barlow, Chiau Hue, Jo Major, and Tuija Kielevainen.

Supervisors A/Prof Laurence Hartley

Date: 17th November, 2010

Summary of Project

In Australia a growing body of employees work longer hours, work regular overtime, and are increasing engaged in work that is outside standard working hours According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2010) over a third of Australian workers work extra-time or overtime and more than a quarter are employed in work of non-standard hours. These extra-time demands are known to interrupt activities in non-work time, such as family routines, spousal interaction, social engagements, community participation, recreational activities and sleep-patterns. Balancing work and family time is a key factor in the life of workers and the constant work-life conflict can have a negative effect on their lives and that of their family when the work roles disrupt the capacity to participate fully in their home life. According to findings from research by Glezer and Wolcott (1999), work interferes in the private lives of a significant percentage of the working population, and the main contributor to this is their working hours. As non-standard hour workers incur a greater burden of interruption to normal daily life patterns, working hours for these employees are not equivalent to those of SH workers. Past research has found that the added toll of irregular hours results in these workers experience greater WLC, demonstrated through increasing stress in their social and domestic lives and greater adverse health effects.

This research project was designed to explore whether workers of non-standard hours with families have enough non-work time to do the activities required of them in their home, personal and social life, and the impact this has on their health, satisfaction and wellbeing. This was done using a sample population of workers from the Western Australian workforce.

Sixty-six workers participated in the study, with 38 working non-standard hours and 28 working standard hours. Whilst male and female participation was roughly similar, 35 men and 31 women, the participation rate in each work type differed markedly. Almost seventy percent of women worked standard hours, and 80% percent of the men who participated worked standard hours. Participants were not targeted in industries, however were enlisted through contacts of the research group in their communities. These work groups that were known to the researchers, though not documented in the questionnaires, included nurses, fisheries officers, FIFO workers in the mining community, teachers and office workers.

We asked participants to anonymously complete a series of questionnaires, which we estimated would take approximately 30 to 40 minutes. In the first section of questionnaire they were asked a number of general questions regarding sex, and current domestic and employment situation. Then they were asked to record, the closest estimate of time, on two working days, how much time was actually spent and how much time they would have liked to spend for a series of activities. In the proceeding sections of the questionnaire participants were asked questions regarding general mental health, job, spousal relationship, life satisfaction, and their social support system. These questions required rating answers on varying scales, by circling the most appropriate response to each question asked. Afterwards these were added together to produce an overall score for each survey that resulted in seven measured indicators of wellbeing for each participant. We then combined each result to find overall averages for the seven measures for the two types of working conditions to ascertain differences and similarities between those who work standard hours and those working non-standard hours.

We found several interesting differences between workers these two employment categories. Firstly, as expected we found that there was not enough non-work time available for non-standard-hour workers complete domestic activities in comparison to workers of standard hours. In addition, we found that all workers in our survey perceive they need more domestic time than what they had available to them, which supports the assertion that most workers with families experience some degree of work-life conflict.

Secondly, we found that workers of non-standard hours had greater working hours interference into their private and domestic time, and in addition were less satisfied with the amount of time-off time their type of working hours, whether it be shift systems or irregular hours of work, left for social and domestic activities and time with their family. The third finding was therefore not surprising as it logically follows the last; workers non-standard hours experienced lower job satisfaction than those working standard hours.

Fourthly we found participants working NSH had significantly less people in their social support networks than those working SH. As it is harder to engage in normal social activities that are geared around the normal working week, these workers may find it more difficult to engage in social activities that would bring them in contact with a lager number of social contacts and friendship networks.

Finally, some of the survey measures of wellbeing were related to each other, and support the idea that these are in some way linked together. Of the significant relationships, satisfaction with spousal relationship was tied closely to general mental health and also satisfaction with social support received. From previous research literature these dimensions are tied together as indicators of wellbeing. Our participants across the two employment types were found to have good measures of mental health, healthy relationships with their spouse were very satisfied with the support they received from their social network. This high overall level of wellbeing, with good social support at home may soften the impact of work-life conflict and produce better mental health.

Our findings support the existing body of research literature into the effect of working hours, in suggesting that working NSH interferes with non-work-time leaving less time for domestic activities, less available social supports and lower levels of job satisfaction. As many workers with families experience work-life conflict and in addition a third of working Australians work non-standard hours the effects found in this research project not only impact on the individual worker, but also spill into their families and social spheres. Further research could find plausible solutions to lessen the impact that working life, and especially working non-standard hours has on workers and their families.