Thursday, 28 November 2013

Working For Free - Is it slavery or freedom?

In recent years, our work culture has shifted to one of "volunteering for the great good of the organisation." Management believe that it is good for productivity and innovation while workers feel obliged to work extra time for nothing and all too readily say, "Yes" even though they have already sacrificed a lot of their personal time.

Do you know somebody in this scenario? What do they say? Are they happy or sad?

Extract from The Age, by Caroline James, 16 November 2013

Carl* decided his former industry's "gentlemen's agreement" on unpaid overtime was a crock.

The qualified tradesman changed career direction in 2006 to work as a digital artist, hoping to "get off the tools" and explore a new career path.

He quickly discovered his new industry's bosses expected workers to clock 10-hour-plus days and some Saturdays with little time in lieu.
Daniel Jess

Daniel Jess has given his staff autonomy.

"There was never any formal policies on working extra hours and I soon found this gentleman's agreement I would get my time back was a myth," he says.

"There are always new deadlines and you never get more money, so late last year I quit for good, sick of being overloaded and underpaid by bosses quite happy to take and seldom return."

Some bosses say giving staff extra duties and responsibilities is motivating – albeit minus pay or promotion – and creates highly productive employees armed with decision-making skills.

Joanna Johnson, a former graphic design team manager, assigned extra tasks to her team beyond their normal duties and found this was "somewhat motivational".

"Under pressure they enhance their skills and motivate themselves to succeed," Johnson says.

"The compensation doesn't have to be material. The usual 'you did a great job, you are the best team' always worked for us and I think my team was pretty satisfied."

Working for free is commonplace across Australia's workforce.

According to ACTU president Ged Kearney, the union's most recent figures (from November 2012) show Aussies work more than 2 billion unpaid hours annually; that's $72 billion worth of unpaid work or more than 1 million full-time jobs.

In a recent survey for the annual Hays Salary Guide, 1600 employers were asked how much overtime or extra hours were performed by staff over the past year, and how much of this was unpaid.

More than a quarter of employers (26 per cent) reported the amount of overtime performed by their employees had increased in the past 12 months; 37 per cent by up to five hours a week, 10 per cent by more than 10 hours weekly.

The survey revealed 62 per cent of the overtime or extra hours was unpaid.

"Employers are looking for maximum productivity from their existing workforce," says Hays Australia and New Zealand managing director Nick Deligiannis.

"If not managed carefully, the fact that so much of the overtime is unpaid creates the potential for issues around employee engagement and even rising absenteeism due to illness or stress, therefore costing more in the long run."

Daniel Jess, managing director of Brisbane-based international marketing firm Tektonia Marketing, agrees most bosses expect too much free time from employees.

He spent 10 years working regular unpaid hours in the travel industry before "burn out" convinced him to start his own business eight years ago.

Today he is boss of 19 staff who regularly work 40-to-42 hours a week in a "horizontal" business structure, which, he says, allows most staff "greater decision-making powers" than traditional business models do.

"Yes, generally, in the small business world, we are all looking for more bang for our buck," says the MBA graduate.

"I have employed people who are highly skilled in their fields so ... where appropriate, for example my digital artist, I have given authority to make many decisions without needing my final sign-off, which is both a gift to the employees to make their lives easier ... and very cost effective for the company."

Unfortunately not all bosses and workers can find a happy medium, laments Simon*, sales executive for a national television station.

The 25-year-old has "a sour taste" in his mouth after two years logging more than 10 unpaid hours' overtime a week without fair pay. It took eight months' job-hunting for the business graduate to land his media job. Industry conditions were tough and he was thrown straight on managing "a big portfolio".

"We are talking three or four 12-hour days a week so it was pretty taxing and while I was initially appreciated for staying back to get work out the door, I got annoyed when this became expected and I would still be there at 8.30pm without even an offer to buy my dinner," he says.

After nine months he decided "to make a point" and started leaving work at 5.30pm.

"Then I started missing out on all performance bonuses, which, by the way, didn't reflect how much overtime I did.

"I am now one of the longest-servicing people on this team, which has annual turnover of 55 per cent, and getting really fed up ... I plan to leave."

• Names changed for privacy.

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