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Top of worry list: work, work, work


Melissa Davey

'Future career' concerns created the greatest anxiety for both men and women.

'Future career' concerns created the greatest anxiety for both men and women. Photo: JESSICA SHAPIRO

Australians spend more time worrying about work than war, the environment, politics or any other broader issue.

In the first major study of the everyday worries of Australians, researchers from Macquarie University found ''future career'' concerns created the greatest anxiety for both men and women, while fear about ''the future'' and ''achievements'' also ranked in the top five.

Researchers from the psychology department found it surprising that matters dominating the media, such as climate change and politics, were not at the forefront of people's minds.

''Worries were much more personal, and at high levels that people said affected their lives and their health,'' said Associate Professor Jennifer Hudson, from the Centre for Emotional Health.

''A lot of people tended to worry about work, social interactions, their appearance and those sorts of areas.''

People were asked in an online survey about their level of worry across categories including health, society, work and relationships. More than 60 per cent of the 791 women said work and study worried them ''moderately'' to ''a lot''. The figures were slightly higher for the 287 men who responded, at about 70 per cent.

Of respondents under 30, more than 80 per cent worried about work and study moderately to a lot and about a third said it affected sleep, mood and physical health. When quality of life was affected, Professor Hudson said, anxiety became a disorder, leading her to believe clinical anxiety was under-diagnosed.

Worries about weight ranked highly for women only. That was not surprising, given the cultural obsession with the appearance of women, Professor Hudson said. ''But it is really alarming that 60 per cent of women said they worried about appearance at levels that interfered with their quality of life.''

The executive director of The Australia Institute, Richard Denniss, said the results reflected the think-tank's research that career and getting ahead were key concerns of those between 28 and 35.

''It is probably a combination of people being worried about their job security, and also the measures people feel they have to go to in order to get ahead,'' Dr Denniss said. ''People feel anxious that other people appear to be working longer and harder than them, because at 11pm their colleague will send out an email copying in everyone in the office so that everyone knows they are still working late at night.''

Technology should create more flexibility, Dr Denniss said, but in reality created a culture of ''presenteeism'' - giving the impression of being at work at all hours. ''You try being the person saying you will only work nine-to-five and will not be responding to emails on the weekend,'' he said.

The acting director of the Centre for Work + Life, Sara Charlesworth, said the results highlighted the desire of women to have strong careers and they were just as ambitious as men. ''Yet we know that among male and female graduates, despite women being as highly educated and qualified, men are still earning more straight out of uni.''

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  • That email sent at 11pm wasn't necessarily written at that time. It could have been written at 3pm and auto sent late at night to give the impression that someone's working 16 hours a day. Anyone advertising their work presence that way is raising a red flag as a potentially burnt out employee in the very near future.

    Date and time
    May 08, 2012, 11:59AM
    • I'm working at my job
      I'm so happy
      More boring by the minute
      But they pay me..

      Fact is though, employers expect staff to work unpaid overtime, if they don't and can't get their work done then they are doing a poor job and get the boot....

      Date and time
      May 08, 2012, 12:32PM
      • The least productive employees in my organisation are also the ones with the greatest amount of "presenteeism".

        Its a front to substitute the appearance of work for the substance of results.

        Date and time
        May 08, 2012, 12:43PM
        • I was told very early on in my career that turning up to work is 90% of the job.

          Date and time
          May 09, 2012, 9:13AM
      • It was just one of those hectic month-end years ago that the mainframe computer system chose such auspicious to go down. I was managing the computer department then. The phones were ringing, and users were asking for their hardcopy reports. I could not do anything to get the system up and running?

        My MD saw me having my cup of coffee, looking very relaxed, and asked curiously why I looked so calm and showed no sign of being stressed.

        I replied, "I can do a great job in designing software, managing my staff, get the department running smoothly, but I can't perform miracles. I am not an engineer, and I have to leave it to the expert to fix the hardware before I can continue my work. There's no point in getting myself stressed over this"

        Sin Fong Chan
        Wheelers Hill
        Date and time
        May 08, 2012, 2:34PM
        • The research confirms the generic experiences of peoples' daily uncertainties associated with earning for a living.

          Probably, there needs some changes in the work place, hiring mechanisms, and whole lot of ambiguity associated with continued employment.

          Saradhi Motamarri
          Date and time
          May 08, 2012, 4:47PM
          • if future career is associated in one's mind with survival, and survival is top of Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs, then little wonder.

            You only have to look at typical Chinese focus on earning money first, as thousands of years of dictatorship has trained them to look after themselves first as the government certainly won't.

            Only in our relatively recent comfortable perception of welfare/nanny state where every problem is stated as 'the government should ...' have we decided that job security is a government problem.

            Of course - let private business free, and they sack willy-nilly anytime they feel like it, and then wonder why they can't attract good staff ...

            Date and time
            May 09, 2012, 9:19AM
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