Australia is on the brink of a wellbeing recession



The third implication for employers is that the full benefits of flexible work may not be realised unless it is formalised in workplace policies, employee contracts or enterprise agreements. A failure to formalise policy also presents wage compliance and health and safety risks.

Not only are remote workers more likely to work more than a full-time week than their onsite counterparts, almost a quarter of them told us they worked outside of standard hours every day. Worryingly, 28 per cent of flexible workers said they weren’t compensated for working these non-standard hours through overtime, time off in lieu, or through a salary agreement.

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While workload was the lead reason for working early mornings or late into the evening, encouragingly, some workers are choosing to work during these times. This indicates some workers are doing life activities during the day – going to the gym, caring responsibilities – and realising the work-life balance benefits of flexible work.

Finally, we suspect that much work being done out of hours is not being tracked or recorded by employers. Not only is there a risk to employee wellbeing – especially when paired with longer hours overall – but it also suggests that many workers may be underpaid.

Australia’s workplace relations laws were not created with flexible work in mind, and do not distinguish the reason an employee might work non-standard hours. Employers are responsible for having systems that pay their employees correctly. Deloitte’s wage remediation experience suggests that underpayments are commonly caused by employees not being paid for all the hours they work.

Our research suggests that workers covered by an enterprise agreement (EA), tailored to the workplace, are more likely to have choice over where and when they work, be willing to forgo a percentage of that pay to achieve that flexibility, and be working for an employer with a formal remote working policy.

Enterprise bargaining can be a laborious process and has been in decline. But we must get this right, and these survey results suggest employers might need to reconsider the option of bargaining to facilitate more flexibility for their employees while managing compliance risks.

Australian workers are at risk of burnout and demand better wellbeing outcomes.

Flexible work is the remedy that can be codified into employment agreements. Wellbeing cannot.

Natalie James is a Deloitte Australia Partner, leader of its Workplace Integrity Practice, Adjunct Professor at Swinburne University of Technology, and former Fair Work Ombudsman. Sean Gallagher is Director of the Centre for the New Workforce, Swinburne University of Technology.



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