Ki­wis are work­ing longer hours than ever be­fore – and they’re burnt out. But ex­perts say there is a new so­lu­tion to work­place fa­tigue that could save lives. Anuja Nad­karni in­ves­ti­gates.

Sunday News - - NEWS -

AN­THONY Eg­gert­sen had psyched him­self into lik­ing his job. He worked in high-pres­sure cus­tomer ser­vice at a US power com­pany for half a decade.

Dur­ing power cuts he was the com­mu­ni­ca­tion mid­dle man be­tween work­ers out in the field and top man­age­ment, be­com­ing a punch­ing bag for the frus­tra­tions at both ends of the ser­vice line.

Ev­ery morn­ing, he would give him­self a pep talk as he walked through the of­fice cor­ri­dor to his desk. ‘‘I was like a light switch. I would pre­pare my­self and then fake it for 12 hours.’’

Eg­gert­sen says his job robbed him of his per­sonal life. ‘‘I’m nat­u­rally a so­cial per­son,’’ he says. ‘‘I was the guy that was al­ways up to do some­thing. But I be­came the guy who just didn’t go out be­cause I was afraid I’d be too tired at work the next day.’’

Eg­gert­sen’s story isn’t un­usual. A re­cent sur­vey by Seek found one in three New Zealan­ders felt their job was stress­ful and most took their work prob­lems home. He­lena Cooper-Thomas, or­gan­i­sa­tional psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Auck­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, says peo­ple who work too much risk dam­ag­ing their per­sonal and pro­fes­sional lives. Over­work can af­fect sleep pat­terns, in­cite anx­i­ety and heart con­di­tions as well as weaken im­mune sys­tems and wear down re­la­tion­ships.

With New Zealand’s un­em­ploy­ment hav­ing sunk to a nine-year low, more peo­ple are work­ing to­day, but at what cost to their own well-be­ing?

Cooper-Thomas says new work­force flex­i­bil­ity al­low­ing em­ploy­ees to take work into their homes is a dou­ble-edged sword. ‘‘You’re find­ing peo­ple are more au­ton­o­mous in their jobs than ever be­fore, but these are also jobs where peo­ple can’t dis­con­nect and leave. There are con­stant dead­lines and emails that won’t re­ply them­selves.

‘‘With screens be­ing quite ad­dic­tive it’s far harder to end the day, be­cause bright light keeps you awake and peo­ple aren’t as good at con­trol­ling when to go to bed be­cause they’re not lis­ten­ing to their bod­ies.’’

The Well­ness in the Work­place sur­vey of 93,000 em­ploy­ees, pub­lished by in­sur­ance gi­ant South­ern Cross and Busi­nessNZ, finds New Zealand work­ers have ex­pe­ri­enced sharp in­creases in work­place stress in the past two years.

Peo­ple are in­creas­ingly turn­ing up to work when sick. Over 40 per cent of staff go to work sick, de­spite clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion from em­ploy­ers to stay at home. This is es­pe­cially com­mon among staff of smaller-sized busi­nesses.

Among the big­gest causes of stress are ex­ces­sive work­loads, pres­sure to meet work tar­gets, man­age­ment style and work­place re­la­tion­ships – and long hours.

Eg­gert­sen gained 10 kilo­grams in his pre­vi­ous job, work­ing 12-hour shifts. He even worked a full 24 hours straight a few times and would think about work when he was in bed.

‘‘That’s zom­bie state when you do that,’’ he says. ‘‘I al­ways kept my wife in the loop, so she al­ways knew to be pre­pared. I tried to make it up to her when I could.’’

He felt like he was forced to work those hours be­cause of his mort­gage, and the pay.

Lack of sleep has also been linked to over-eat­ing be­cause the body looks for ways to re­plen­ish its en­ergy lev­els and Coop­erThomas says bad sleep di­min­ishes self-re­straint and causes er­ratic changes in blood sugar lev­els.

Since leav­ing his power com­pany job and mov­ing to New Zealand, Eg­gert­sen has been try­ing to get more ac­tive and re­duce his sky-high blood pres­sure and choles­terol.

Omar Ibrahim worked such long hours that his doc­tor told him he would die be­fore reach­ing 40 if he did not change his ways.

Ibrahim came to New Zealand from East Africa as a refugee al­most a decade ago. But from 2012 to 2014 he worked two full­time jobs and one part-time job as a cleaner to pay for his univer­sity course.

‘‘I needed that job with­out any qual­i­fi­ca­tions and I was happy with that job but I wasn’t happy with the way I was treated and the low wages. That’s just un­fair, the pay, dig­nity and re­spect is not there.’’

Some days Ibrahim went to work with just two or three hours of sleep and worked al­most 90 hours a week. ‘‘I didn’t have a life . . . My im­mune sys­tem was so weak. If I got the flu I would be knocked down for weeks. The doc­tor said ‘you’re killing your­self. You’re go­ing to die soon’.’’

The Well­ness in the Work­place sur­vey found sick and stressed work­ers took 6.6 mil­lion work­ing days off last year, cost­ing em­ploy­ers as much as $1.5 bil­lion.

The toll on Ibrahim’s health even in the short term was ‘‘ab­so­lutely deadly’’. ‘‘You can hurt your­self, or some­one else, have an ac­ci­dent. I was sleep­ing while I was walk­ing – I could have been hit by a car.’’

Once Ibrahim had saved enough to go to univer­sity he de­cided he would change his life and never work like that again.

Per­sonal trainer Alana Joe flipped the switch to change her life around af­ter her high-pay­ing


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