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Safety Advice - The Importance of taking meal breaks or leave

With greater pressure to work longer and harder, a significant impact on mental health has been found due to employees not taking their full leave entitlements or stopping to meal breaks.

A survey by The Australia Institute, found that while taking longer breaks of annual leave is considered imperative to prevent burnout and negative impact on health, less than 1 in 2 employees (48%) are taking their full leave entitlements each year.

It is concerning that breaking for lunch is becoming a thing of the past with many employees electing to skip these crucial breaks in order to meet their job expectations. These employees are more likely to suffer from work related stress, feeling anxious, overwhelmed and worried about work.

The survey further found that in the workers who reported feeling over-worked, 1 in 2 felt stressed and anxious, 1 in 4 felt their mental health was suffering as a result of their work situation, and 1 in 4 experienced losses in sleep.  It is estimated that 3.2 days per worker per year is taken as absence due to stress.

It is commonly thought that new technology will allow people to work smarter not harder however it would appear that more and more employees are asked to produce more with fewer resources resulting in them working longer.  Newer technologies appear to have allowed work to intrude into our personal time at a much higher degree.

Further, workplaces that model and reward long, uninterrupted work hours contribute to the detrimental effect of employee’s stress, anxiety and worry. 

It is therefore recognised that a shift in workplace culture and practices may be required where recognition occurs for productivity achieved by workers who are physically and mentally healthy and able to enjoy their work.

Potential shifts could include:-

  • Redistributing overtime work across the workforce rather than the same overworked employees;
  • Improving workplace practices to ensure employees are able to address concerns relating to workload issues before it becomes a work related stress problem;
  • Reviewing smart technologies and how employees are using it – based on the 24/7 nature of technology;
  • Providing specific written advice to staff about expected hours of and regularly discussing actual hours of work with staff to ensure they are not at risk of overload;
  • Provide staff with options for improving work-life balance ie., flexible hours, purchased leave, encouraging leave to be taken etc;
  • Educating managers on how to identify warning signs in employees and how to address these signs.

Information in HR Advice Online guides and blog posts is meant purely for educational discussion of human resources issues. It contains only general information about human resources matters and due to factors such as government legislation changes, may not be up-to-date at the time of reading. It is not legal advice and should not be treated as such.

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