University of Melbourne Magazine

Working on tomorrow

  • Perks, pay and the real meaning of life


    Illustration: Frank Maiorana

    Illustration: Frank Maiorana

    We’ve all seen them on TV – the big tech firms where perks of the job include gourmet meals, games rooms, massages and gyms. Sounds great? Not to Professor Tony LaMontagne, who leads the Workplace Health research stream in the McCaughey VicHealth Centre for Community Wellbeing in the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health.

    “That stuff gives me the shivers,” he says. “People think it’s the company looking after them but it’s not really. It’s the company working you to the bone.

    “It might be fine for the person who does nothing but work, then goes home and comes back to work. But for most people there is danger in having all of your social connections at work, because if you lose that job or you move on, you lose your social networks at the time you most need them.”

    Regardless of what their workplace is like, LaMontagne cautions workers against getting too wrapped up in their jobs, a risk increased by the technology that allows – and encourages – employees to be on call 24/7.

    “In Western society we over-invest in work for our identities, and we [in Australia] have some of the longest working hours in the OECD,” he says.

    “Yet there’s much more to life than work.”

    He urges job-seekers to protect their mental health by researching a company’s culture carefully before signing up for a new position.

    “You need to do more than read the annual reports or know what the salary range is,” he says. “Salary drives a lot of people but over time it’s not going to make or break whether you stay in a particular role. If you are somebody who really, really values your weekends, you need to know that in certain lines of work you’re not going to have them.

    “A lot of workplaces might profess to have the flexibility to accommodate you but in the end, it may not be so true. Know what your limits are in terms of how hard you want to work, and how important your life out of work is to you.”