Call Me Maybe (Not)

Working Overtime and A Right To Disconnect in Australia
by Eliza Littleton and Lily Raynes

Working beyond scheduled hours has long been a problem for Australian workers. The nature and scale of overtime has more recently been shaped by the rise in flexible working arrangements and the integration of information and communication technology at work. Checking emails on the weekend, taking multiple-time-zone calls out of hours, and teleconferencing from the dining table have all become familiar experiences amongst workers. This both enabled working from home conditions during the pandemic for a large portion of workers, and accelerated patterns of overtime through the blurring of lines between work and home life.

The survey results presented in this report show that overtime is a prevalent and systemic issue in Australia, primarily driven by working conditions within the control of employers.

  • Seven in ten (71%) workers reported having performed work outside of scheduled working hours. While only 29% of workers indicated that they have not done overtime.
  • Of those who completed overtime, the largest share performed overtime often, as opposed to sometimes, rarely, or never.
    • Almost half (44%) reported often performing overtime to meet employer expectations, and another 31% performed overtime sometimes.
    • Overtime was fairly evenly spread across industries and occupations, suggesting it is not an isolated issue that can be resolved with a targeted solution.
  • The incidence and frequency of overtime are more common among men, young people, those with full-time jobs, and those in goods producing sectors or working as managers.
  • The most common reasons workers perform overtime were having too much work (36%), followed by staff shortages (28%), less interruptions working outside normal hours (26%), and managers’ or supervisors’ expectations (23%).
  • Over a third of workers (38%) reported that overtime was an expectation in their workplaces.

Overtime doesn’t come without cost: it has significant consequences for workers, their families, and for society more broadly.

  • The most commonly experienced negative consequences of overtime work were physical tiredness (35%), followed by stress and anxiety (32%), and being mentally drained (31%), each affecting around a third of workers.
  • Over a quarter of workers reported that overtime interfered with their personal life and relationships (27%), and 17% responded that it led to disrupted or unfulfilling non-work time.
  • One in five workers identified that working outside scheduled hours negatively affected their relationship with work; 22% reported reduced motivation to work, and 19% experienced poor job satisfaction.

Australia has enterprise agreements, modern awards, and national employment standards that are intended to set out limitations on working times. However, the prevalence of overtime suggests that Australia’s industrial relations systems are not properly protecting the boundaries between work and non-work time for many workers. In particular, existing laws have done little to prevent the creep of work into private time, aided by technology. This is why workers, employers, unions, and governments around the world have been looking at how to implement a ‘right to disconnect’.

Our survey found considerable support amongst Australia workers for a right to disconnect.

  • Six in seven (84%) workers expressed support for the Federal Government to nationally legislate a right to disconnect that directs employers to avoid contacting workers outside of work hours, unless in an emergency.
    • Only 8% opposed the idea of a right to disconnect.

A right to disconnect could take several forms, and be implemented via different avenues in Australia. Based on international examples and the attitudes of workers in Australia, this report finds that implementing the right within the national employment standards would be the most effective.

  • Four in five (80%) workers thought that a right to disconnect would be effective if legislated in national employment standards, making it the avenue viewed as effective by the most workers.

This report provides strong evidence for the government to pursue a right to disconnect as a way of limiting the creep of work into non-work time.

Full report