The second work and life index report, written up at great length in this morning’s Fairfax broadsheets, has the usual left-familist calls for ‘firmer employee rights around controlling their working time’.
But it also has the same paradox as the first report: though most people say that they often or always feel rushed for time, and a quarter say work often or always interferes with enough time for friends and family, only 13% say that they are ‘not satisfied’ with their work-life balance, and nearly 70% say they are satisfied.
As I suggested last year, this study is missing a sense of the trade-offs people make. They should ask a lot more about how people feel about the work they do, not just in its personal rewards (money etc), but in how people see it contributing to something worthwhile.
In the 2005 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes, for example, about two-thirds of respondents agree or strongly agree with the statement that ‘my job is useful to society’, and nearly three-quarters agree or strongly agree with the statement that ‘in my job I can help other people’. 70% say they are proud to work for the firm or organisation that they do, and 60% say they are prepared to work harder than they have to for it to succeed.
People derive satisfaction from their work as well as their home life, and do not want to let down the people who rely on their work. Indeed, the term ‘work-life’ is highly loaded: work is an integral part of life.
This is not to deny that individuals can get themselves in situations where things genuinely are out of balance. But this will usually sort itself out over time without the help of regulators. The first HILDA statistical report, for example, found that over a three year people 17% of their sample had reported dissatisfaction with their work-non-work balance. But less than 3% had reported this dissatisfaction in all three years. These longitudinal surveys are invaluable correctives to snapshot-in-time surveys, which often give an exaggerated view of the scale of problems by not capturing their transitory elements.