All work and no play...

A recent survey said Australians are getting very fat, Germans are even fatter, so decency prevents me from talking about obese Americans.

A recent survey said Australians are getting very fat, Germans are even fatter, so decency prevents me from talking about obese Americans.

But neither are we Kiwis lean, hunky machines. As that Xenical TV ad keeps saying, “the average New Zealander increases in weight by a gram a day”.

When I worked up north, there were some real chunky locals. Perhaps it was the kumura, I wondered.

Working in another small town, it appeared Big Macs and KFC could take the credit.

But I too became a fat tub of lard, heading towards 100kg.

I worked crazy hours then, 60 to 70 a week, with hardly a full day off.

There was no life outside work, and though better paid, who benefited? Neither me, nor my employers.

I was tired a lot of the time, could not always think straight, so despite putting in all the time and effort, did I always give my best?

Often, after work, around 7ish, I would push my shopping trolley around Woolies for some convenience dinner, head home, open the fridge door, pour a tumbler of wine and blob out for the night.

That was my life. I knew this could not continue and I was asking for a heart attack before I was 40.

Fortunately, the last job ended sooner than I’d planned, and eventually I ended up in Auckland.

Here, the company allows a much better balance between life and work, and I think it benefits everybody.

I "only" do 40-something hours a week now and there is less pressure. I have time for other things. I am not always as tired and I like to think my work is better for it.

I even go to the gym. And while the stomach is still larger than I would like, I think I look and feel better at 92kg to 93kg.

Some years back, while working in Hamilton, I tended to finish work before 4pm. Most days I’d head off to Les Mills, be home for Richard and Judy and then get ready for an evening out after Shortland Street. It was a good, happy life and again my work benefited.

But returning to Britain, a long hours culture meant tiredness, unhappiness and no matter how much I tried, I could not give my best at the big Scottish daily paper. The same had been true at its sister paper some years before in the English Midlands; while my first, in Cumbria, allowed a life and in return, received my best work.

For us computer users, getting a balance is extra important. Our jobs are not physical. We are not burning fat by hacking trees, chasing after sheep, or wandering around some restaurant carrying plates of food. Being chained to a PC all day uses very few calories and doing it for so long leads to problems, as I know from experience.

Short-sighted employers may not realise how they pay in the end from overworking their staff, but society should because it foots the bill for bad employers.

If anyone becomes ill due to overwork, it is the taxpayer that pays the doctors wages, supplies the subsidised drugs, and the hospital treatment. Had I had my heart attack, I might have cost you thousands.

But shouldn’t the bad employer pay? After all, it would have caused the problems.

With ACC now renationalised what better excuse has the government to poke its nose more into company work practices in the interests of health and safety, and the costs to itself and the taxpayer?

It is perhaps something employers might like to consider. Many already grumble about Occupational Safety and Health, so it is perhaps better they don’t give OSH officials even more things to get involved with.

In Europe, a raft of rules operate under the guise of health and safety.

Exemptions exist, but many jobs are now limited to a maximum 48-hour working week.

European Union governments have realised the social cost of a long hours culture: obesity, stress, ill-health, kids having less “quality time” with their parents so they go out and cause trouble, and people having no time for voluntary work, the Round Table, helping charities and the rest.

The French, for example, also claim some success in reducing unemployment by reducing the working week and “sharing out” the work.

But we should not forget health and safety. The cost of long hours for us office staff, I have already explained, but what about other professions?

I certainly would not want to be operated on by a tired, overworked doctor doing 80-plus hours a week.

I certainly would not fly with an airline that made its pilots tired. And the same applies with bus and coach companies.

A couple of weeks ago, we marked Labour Day, which was created 101 years ago to mark the introduction of the 40-hour week.

The aim was for people to get a fair balance between work and life. While a rigid nine-to-five is probably too inflexible for these 24 x 7 times, the general principle still holds.

All work and no play makes Jack a dull and very unhealthy boy. And we all suffer because of it.

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