Bosses increasingly wary of burning out staff are taking drastic steps to stop people working when on leave or sick, an employment advocate says.
And a survey of worker attitudes found nearly half of Kiwi employees were feeling too stressed to do their jobs properly.
Managers increasingly recognised the value of keeping work and leisure time separate, advocate and employment mediator Danny Gelb said.
The quest to keep that separation was tough when smartphones were ubiquitous and working from home was so common, Gelb said.
But he said more organisations, especially big companies, were stopping staff from accessing work IT systems when on leave or a sick day.
“Work then disables their access to all the work systems ... The idea is if you’re away from work we want you to get rest and get well.”
Gelb told the Herald he knew of a case where an employee was “highly upset” about being restricted from access to work systems when on leave.
The company effectively told that worker: “You’re on leave, you’re meant to be on holiday. We’re not trying to punish you.”
Those managers were fighting a trend of blurred work-leisure lines.
“It starts off with email access to telephones. So when an email comes through and goes ‘bing’, it’s human nature to go look at it.”
Gelb said some big firms realised letting people properly switch off helped prevent burnout, and improve long-term productivity.
But he believed small enterprises and especially family-run firms were sometimes less willing or able to embrace that way of thinking.
Jarrod Haar, Professor of Management and Māori Business at Massey University, said it was great for companies to pay more attention to work-life balance.
He felt there was both more burnout and more recognition of burnout lately.
Haar (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Mahuta) said the old-school culture of people embracing workaholic lifestyles and not taking care of themselves was fading.
Lockdowns and times of high stress intensified focus on these issues, he told the Herald.
“At the end of 2021 it was astronomical.”
Haar said the situation had since generally improved but at some workplaces, staff who remained were asked to work harder because others had already left from burnout.
“One of the things we as a country need to start learning to do is the whole relaxation thing.”
Many Kiwis still wanted to work hard or put in extra hours, he said.
Haar said workers should know that if they burnt out, employers would not necessarily shepherd them through a recovery.
“On one hand it shows great commitment to the organisation ... but if I burn out and I’m totally wasted and useless, you’re not going to say: I’ve got your back for three months.
“You do need to look after Number One and sometimes that means putting yourself ahead of the organisation.”
In the long run, employers and workers were both more successful if burnout was avoided and staff took care of themselves, Haar said.
“It’s like a high-performing vehicle. To run well, it still needs lots of servicing.”
New research from Umbrella Wellbeing psychologists and researchers found 43 per cent of employees felt they had to neglect some work tasks because they had too much to do.
Only 14 per cent felt pressured to work long hours but 44 per cent said they worked “very intensively” to meet deadlines.
Umbrella chief executive Dr Dougal Sutherland said workers were often pressured to take on more work, longer hours, and neglect some tasks.
“This not only affects job performance and organisational productivity but also the physical and mental health of workers.”
He added: “Burdening our employees with too much work, or conversely not giving them enough, can have negative consequences including decreased job satisfaction, increased stress and burnout, and decreased productivity.”
The Umbrella Wellbeing study surveyed 7000 workers.
People with high workloads were twice as likely to have psychological distress and three times more likely to leave their jobs in the next six months, Umbrella added.
“What’s even more worrying is that working long hours (more than 55 hours per week) heightens the risk of stroke or heart disease,” Sutherland said.
He said an estimated 10 per cent of adults globally worked these hours, but Kiwis on average generally worked longer hours compared to other OECD countries.
The Umbrella Wellbeing authors suggested a different term, The Great Reprioritisation, which although a multisyllabic mouthful, removed any inference of resignation.
“Instead, it reflects that people, both employees and business owners, are re-evaluating how work fits into their lives to strengthen, not sacrifice, well-being.”