Work/Life/Family Balance in NSW

On a day dominated by the media attempting to beat up a story about NSW Premier Morris Iemma taking time off to spend the school holidays with his young children, another story got hardly any traction. Both stories tie into Guest Hoyden Helen’s post from last week on the “Real World” of time-management around school holidays not being perceived as a male i.e. “real” issue.

Call for curbs on unsocial work hours

ALL fathers should receive two weeks’ paid paternity leave, and unsocial work hours should be restricted to preserve family life, a group of academics says.

Increased retention rates and lower absenteeism would be just two of the benefits to employers, while for employees it would mean more control over their work arrangements and being able to accommodate family and caring responsibilities, they said. The Benchmarks for Work and Family Policies report, taken from the latest Australian and international research, pushes against the trend towards excessive work hours.

Of course, it’s exactly those excessive work hours that Mr Iemma is being slammed for not performing, the accusation that “he lacks the commitment to lead NSW” being made most forcefully by Liberal leaders former ex-Premier of NSW Nick Greiner and ex-Federal Opposition Leader John Hewson, with fellow Liberal ex-Premier of Victoria Jeff Kennett reported as joining this criticism even though the only quotes from Kennett that I can find sound wistful about his own failure to spend the time with his own family that Iemma is insisting upon, noting that Kennett’s wife actually left him for six months because he was failing to share family duties, before getting onto the obligatory denunciation of NSW as a “basket case”.

Another Liberal ex-leader in NSW, former Opposition Leader Kerry Chikarovski, sounded reluctantly yet staunchly supportive of Iemma’s prioritisation of his family, noting that it would be hugely hypocritical of her to denounce him for ensuring a balanced work/life/family balance when this had been one of her own pet issues as a parliamentarian (you could tell she really wanted to seize the microphone to denounce him for his other perceived failings, but she restrained herself and stayed on topic, as shall I despite not being generally an Iemma fan).

Australians were increasingly working non-standard hours, the report noted, including very long hours, unsocial hours and very short or unpredictable hours.

“Persistent unsocial working time “¦ has negative effects on workers, especially those with dependents, and its negative effects can extend to children,” it said.

Some of the stories quoted unnamed “senior Labor MPs” as expressing doubts about Iemma’s leadership strength due to his perceived absence from a full roster of Premier’s duties. The continued soundbite was about how he makes special effort to be home by 6pm to put his children to bed, the implication being that afterwards he put his feet up for the night. As both Kerry Chikarovski and the current NSW Minister for Women and Minister for Science and Medical Research, Verity Firth, pointed out: today’s technology enables people working extended hours to easily go back to work from their home office once the children are asleep, so that assumptions that Iemma’s working day typically ends at 6pm just because he spends some time with his children then is asinine (my word, they were more diplomatic).

Other senior Labor figures went on the record to defend Iemma’s familial dedication, noting that not only did he work a full roster of duties around his family responsibilities but that he had ianyway been upfront about his priorities before the last election, so that NSW voters knew what Iemma stood for and voted for him with their eyes open. NSW certainly has a whole heap of problems with decaying infrastructure and a legacy of institutional corruption going back decades, but Iemma’s difficulties overcoming these problems surely have little to do with the amount of time he spends with his family instead of locked in more and more meetings booked just to fill the diary to some arbitrary level that allegedly shows sufficient “commitment”.

The cult of longer working hours cutting into family life is coming under the microscope in this Iemma story, and the results might not be to the liking of those who are trying to spin Iemma’s commitment to active fatherhood as somehow detrimental to his performance of his elected role. The various polls online at newspapers, radio stations and blogs seem to be strongly supportive of the Premier putting his children ahead of excessive work hours, results that could indicate an electorate reflecting on the pressures recent industrial legislation potentially place on family life.

A supportive industrial regime was also vital, and that was where the federal workplace laws fell short.

“Some of the early research on Work Choices identifies the potentially negative impact on workers at the lower end of the spectrum,” she said.

Despite recent evidence that more Australians were working excessive hours, Professor Pocock believes the overwhelmingly negative impact of this on family life has seen the tide turn.

“I think the electorate wants to see action on work and family policies,” she said.

N.B. The Iemma story didn’t make “Today’s Top 10 Stories” in the sidebar at the SMH, was towards the bottom of the sidebar on the Terrorgraph’s site despite at least 3 separate articles over the last few days. The Libs need to find some other mud to throw in the hope that it might stick.

Categories: culture wars, gender & feminism, Politics, relationships

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8 replies

  1. The idea of working longs hours is sometimes borne of necessity but frankly, a lot of it is just bullshit macho posturing – a cult as you put it with all the irrationality and groupthink associated with cults. Coupled with corporate managements styles that are inherently inefficient and a lot of the day is wasted on useless tasks forcing people into overtime.
    In my case, I do a 9-5 and try and get home before the Little One is asleep. However I’m armed with a Blackberry so I’m in contact all the time. The working day extends around my home hours. I do wish for more home time with the Little One.
    There are a lot of reasons to dislike Iemma but this is one where he should be praised.

  2. I can understand that business cycles mean occasional flurries of critical implementation that require overtime. But if a business is requiring all its employees to work 12-14 hour days all year around, then it’s taking the piss and needs to start recruiting to enable staff capacity such that no more than 1 week out of 4 is at significantly more than 40 hours per week.
    There’s no credible justification for a standard expectation of 50 or 60 hours+ week in and week out.

  3. But employers are expecting that. They are trying to do more with less. Employees are treated as variable of production not as human beings with associated feelings.
    I do work for a startup so irregular hours are the the norm. Which is why I’m up at the moment blogging while dealing with a few issues. But I do have the luxury of a good boss who had no problem with me leaving a 1:30 today. My sister and her family came a visiting yesterday and this evening so it was good to be home early for once.
    We have one very over-excited Little One who is now thankfully asleep.

  4. Heh. I just saw this news item and was going to come back to my previous post and put in a comment about it – but you’ve already done it.
    Welcome back Tigtog.

  5. Thanks for helping to keep the blog warm, Helen.
    Amanda Marcotte had a fascinating post on Friday about how current economic rationalist policies (that celebrate the excessive work hours cult) are constraining the choices of the middle-class (fall into the corporate line or fall out of the middle class) with the perhaps-not-inadvertent result of essentially dismantling the middle class as a pool of non-corporate creativity.
    The broader social control effect of requiring excessive work hours and a don’t-rock-the-boat mentality ties into the hostility against those who seek a work/life/family balance: fighting for the fulfilment of familial desires above professional desires make one a less predictable (reliable) employee/citizen/voter.

  6. My grandfather worked for the Navy (as a civillian) through WWII. He never worked overtime, because it was believed across the organisation, that overtime was inherently unproductive. He worked his way up, and by the time he retired he was quite senior. He still didn’t work overtime.
    Much of what happens in corporate life is machismo, not hard work. A work culture where it is frowned upon to leave at 5 is a place where people burn out, and quit. It is a place where people get so tired they make mistakes.
    I don’t live in NSW, but I do want a leader who is in touch with ‘the real world’, who takes his family life and responsibilities seriously, and who isn’t so thick that he thinks his children can wait five years for bonding storytimes. Kennett was that thick, we all suffered for it, and his wife (temporarily) left him.

  7. I had thought of so many things to say in response to this fantastic post.. but the comments have pretty much covered it.
    Oh well, I’m left with – we need senior men to model good work life balance behaviour because work culture is notoriously stubborn to change.. except when the boss does something and then magically it can change overnight. Good on Iemma.

  8. Rather than fight the culture of my family un-friendly engineering job, I decided to get a job in government (ended up at a university) so that I could be a part of my childs life. As I type I am taking the second day off work this week as my son has the flu. In my previous job I could have done this too but would have had to fight to justify it and felt like my position was in danger. My current boss actively encourages me to put family first (aggg a political party has hijacked my language) which has the effect that I am more motivated to do a good job for them.
    Having mentioned Family First – I think they are onto something with their marketing. For many Australians, family has become an important source of meaning as well as simple wealth and status creation.
    And I agree with the comment about the machismo of long hours. Some employers like to think they’re getting their moneys worth but often there is little productivity gained from employees who may stay late to surf the net or play solitaire. Some employees like to feel that they are important and indispensable and like to project that image. As for me, I was just worried about my job all the time.

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