Long hours drive couples to therapy

By Ellen Irvine news@bayofplentytimes co nz

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Mary Hodson, couples' counsellor,  says Bay families are increasingly suffering from the work pressure men and women are experiencing.
Mary Hodson, couples' counsellor, says Bay families are increasingly suffering from the work pressure men and women are experiencing.

"Plenty" of Tauranga workers are putting in more than 50 hours a week at work, and a counsellor says long hours are having an impact on families and sending Western Bay couples to therapy.

A study released this week found Kiwi families were under strain from mounting work commitments, with parents saying they regularly missed important occasions such as birthdays, were too tired to play with their children, and wanted to be home for dinner more often.

The results showed that work pressure had a significant impact on family time - with 17 per cent saying work commitments resulted in tension between them and their partners.

Tauranga couples counsellor Mary Hodson said families were increasingly suffering from work pressure on men and women.

"It's a really big issue in Tauranga and Mount Maunganui, where we've got so many start-up businesses and small businesses," she said.

"People are working very hard to earn a living in what is still a very small but highly desirable place to live in.

There's a lot of competition for the business that's available."

Mrs Hodson said she had worked with several couples in which one partner was working long hours and the other was lonely as a result.

Employers expected longer hours and 24/7 availability due to mobile phones.

Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Max Mason told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend there were "plenty" of people in Tauranga working more than 50 hours a week.

Typical roles were managers and supervisors, business owners and not-for-profit employees. Some who worked long hours feared losing their job, and others felt a strong loyalty to their workmates.

"Business start-ups also tend to need to work very long hours," Mr Mason said. "Typically, they are under-capitalised so they can't afford as many employees as they need in the early years, so the owner picks up all the additional tasks when the employees go home at 5pm."

Mr Mason said the Kiwi culture valued working long hours.

"We are world leaders in this respect. There is a disadvantage in this as it rewards working harder rather than working smarter. We need to increase our productivity in many industries if we are to compete in a global marketplace."

He warned that working too hard could decrease productivity and motivation.

Being a family-friendly employer could result in considerable employee loyalty, Mr Mason said.

TrustPower, which has its head office in Tauranga, offers initiatives such as providing childcare if an employee is caught up in a big project that falls in the school holidays.

TrustPower's community-relations manager, Graeme Purches, said attracting and retaining good staff required flexibility and consideration of employees' work/ life balance.

In his own team, staff were required to travel frequently and attend evening functions. In return, they were regularly allowed to take days off during the week as recognition of their extra hours.

"This arrangement is quite informal, because we believe in the concept of treating people like adults, rather than school children.

"This not only ensures they have a good work/life balance, but also keeps their job satisfaction levels up, which in turn increases productivity."

The majority of TrustPower employees worked a 40-hour week.

Mrs Hodson recommends couples working long hours make their relationship a priority, and spend 45 minutes each day talking to each other without cellphones, computers or television.

"They need to talk about how each other is feeling - deeper relationship stuff, not the mundane day to day stuff or saying 'you haven't tucked the kids in this week'."

It was important to show appreciation for the other partner, she said.

"If dad is working really hard and long hours, tell him you appreciate him and what he's doing, because he's not doing it for himself, he's doing it for the family."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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