Based on a survey done on 8,000 working Australians (aged 24 to 65) by researchers from the Australian National University, the healthy work limit is not 48 hours per week as set by the International Labour Organization back in 1930. It should only be 39 hours per week. Beyond this limit, a person’s health will already be put at risk because one will no longer have sufficient time to eat well and attend to his/her personal needs.
While 39 hours is the general maximum weekly work limit, the specific limit for men and women are different. The healthy limit for women is only 34 hours because they are typically expected to engage in more work when they get home. The limit for men is up to 47 hours because unlike women, they’re not normally expected to do household chores, including caring for the children.
On the other hand, those numbers cannot be considered unconditionally. Because there is also research suggesting that people who love their work can in fact benefit from working longer hours. For them, work isn’t work, but something they happily choose to do.
However, that group of people might be more of a minority than a majority. Which means for the many who have been working abnormally long hours for quite some time, there will surely be a negative impact on their physical and mental health.
It’s worse for women because despite being as skilled and educated as men, they have lower paying jobs and less leave entitlements. Plus, they have to contend with additional ‘unpaid’ work at home. As Dr. Huong Dinh, lead author of the study, pointed out: “Given the extra demands placed on women, it’s impossible for women to work long hours often expected by employers unless they compromise their health.”
The research further says that the only way for the weekly work limit to become uniform for both men and women is if the playing field is leveled, so to speak. This means that women get to receive the same rewards and benefits as men, and men get to spend as much time on household work and child care as women.
If domestic chores are removed from the equation or at least limited to a minimal degree, then the maximum work hours can be extended up to 48 hours.
The researchers also want to debunk a long standing misconception: that doing a good job necessarily means working long hours. And that it is possible to work long hours without compromising one’s health.
Through this study which was recently published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, it is hoped that some changes will be forthcoming, especially when it comes to balancing work with home life.
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