Are employees working too many hours?

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The traditional 9am-5pm working day is quickly disappearing, but this is because many employees are regularly working beyond their contracted hours to meet strict deadlines or manage heavy workloads. David Leithead looks at why employers should discourage staff from working overtime. 

Many organisations are offering their employees greater autonomy to decide their work patterns and more employees than ever are embracing that. But who’s winning and seeing the most benefit –  employee or employer?

Morgan McKinley’s 2019 working hours and flexible working survey of 1,500 respondents revealed how despite the increasing adoption of flexibility and the demand for a healthy work-life balance, 91% of white collar office professionals in the UK are working beyond their weekly contracted hours. Most do it because they feel pressured by their workload, yet they don’t feel more productive from working the extra hours. Ninety per cent of those who work beyond their contracted hours receive no additional compensation.

A study by the TUC showed that UK workers put in the longest hours of employees across the EU last year. Full-time employees in Britain worked an average of 42 hours a week in 2018, two hours more than the EU average – equivalent to an extra two and a half weeks a year.

Our research echoes this, with 44% of office professionals signing contracts that commit them to a minimum of 38-42 hours per week, and 11% working to contracts that expect more than 43 hours.

If “full-time” still means five days of 9am-5pm (minus an hour for lunch), the majority of people are expected to do more than that. In fact, it is predicted that by 2025 the 9-5 will become entirely redundant thanks to evolving routines.

The boundaries of the working day are shifting – starting hours vary enormously and home time arrives at a range of hours. This may be a contributing factor to why people are going beyond their contracted hours, as the notion of clocking on and clocking off has disappeared for good.

Workloads forcing staff to work overtime

Thirty-one per cent of respondents believe they always work beyond their contracted hours, 26% mostly work longer than they should and 34% sometimes do. This means 91% of white collar office professionals will at times work more than their contracts state, while 9% claim to never work overtime. The majority of those who do work beyond their contracts work up to five extra hours each week (57%), just over a quarter (26%) work 5-9 additional hours and a significant 17% go well beyond their contracted hours by 10 hours or more every week.

Describing why they work overtime, the most frequent response was “to meet deadlines/cope with workload”.

But do additional working hours equate to a higher productivity output? It seems not; employees feel they should work extra hours but don’t feel any more productive – 31% feel expected to work overtime but only 19% claim they are more productive during this time.

Mental health support

With the spotlight on employees’ mental health and wellbeing, employers need to consider they appropriately care for their staff. Many companies may be shocked to discover that employees feel an inherent pressure to work extra hours.

Research carried out by Morgan McKinley earlier this year found that 74% of office professionals are either offered no support or weren’t aware if their employer provides any mental health initiatives. Having programmes in place is useful for attraction and retention and creates a positive office culture as well.

Employers should ensure staff are suitably supported, rested and encouraged to take a break from their desks. Too many of us spend the majority of our days in front of a screen, and that has negative impacts on health.

Despite this being widely known, a large proportion of the UK’s workforce get through their working days without stepping foot outside. Startlingly, almost half of respondents either don’t take any form of lunch break or eat at their desk but continue working. We all know how important a break is for keeping the mind fresh and productive, yet we don’t do it.

Employees may have more of a say over when their working day starts and finishes, but they also seem to be working a greater number of hours every week to cope with their workload, without recognition. All this culminates in a dilemma where employees are more susceptible to mental burnout and consequently, employers see a dent in business performance.

By understanding and helping drive the evolution in working practices through discouraging employees from working overtime, businesses can supercharge their productivity and do more for less, faster than before.

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David Leithead

About David Leithead

David Leithead is chief operating officer at recruitment consultancy Morgan McKinley.

One Response to Are employees working too many hours?

  1. Avatar
    Angela 8 Apr 2020 at 8:58 pm #

    Well said!

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