Memo to staff: the boss says don’t work too hard

by Ewin Hannan
October 30, 2012
Richard White
WiseTech Global chief executive Richard White, centre in blue shirt, with staff at the company headquarters in Sydney. Picture: Sam Mooy Source: The Australian

HOW often has the boss called you in and told you to stop working crazy hours?

Sydney technology company WiseTech Global has taken an innovative approach to tackling the work-life balance of its employees by having an overwork clause written into their contracts.

If employees work more than 40 hours a week regularly, they have to talk to their manager to redress the situation.

Workplace expert and University of Adelaide law professor Andrew Stewart said the WiseTech Global approach was the first time he had heard of such a clause applying to Australian workers but he expected the provision to become more common.

He said he expected more claims to be lodged against employers for breach of health and safety laws “where you have high-pressure, high-stress, long-working-hours environments”.

There was increasing evidence that productivity and effectiveness of employees “falls off dramatically when you have tired workers”, Professor Stewart said. Recent research argued the effect on employees of working long hours was equivalent to “being drunk or high on drugs”, he said.

WiseTech Global chief executive Richard White said the company’s approach was consistent with its core values, which state that although staff should strive for the best outcomes, “we do not ask people to impale themselves on their work commitments”.

“Creativity is fired by emotional energy,” the company’s charter says. “No life-balance, no creativity at work.”

Mr White said he had sat down with employees on about 10 occasions in the past five years and told them they spent too much time in the office. The workforce consists of salaried, largely full-time employees who do not receive overtime.

Employees at the company head office in inner-city Alexandria have access to a fitness instructor and healthy food.

“Beer o’clock” functions are held every Friday.

Mr White said he leaves work at 6.30pm and “I work the longest in the company”.

“Its not the amount of work, it’s the quality of the work,” he said.

He noted staff turnover was “extremely low”, an unusual occurrence for an information technology company.

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