From the TUC

WYPHD 2013: The false economy of unpaid overtime

01 Mar 2013, By

Long hours and overwork

Britain is often written off as a nation of shirkers. If you believe everything you read in the tabloids workers in the UK are tardy, pull sickies the whole time and spend all day on Facebook.

But we know that the reality is very different. Brits work among the longest hours in Europe – often too long – and what’s more a lot of those extra hours at work aren’t even paid.

TUC research published today shows that around one in five workers regularly do around seven hours of unpaid overtime every week. If everyone did all their unpaid hours at the start of the year their first paid day at work would be Friday 1 March. We’ve named today Work Your Proper Hours Day in their honour!

Work Your Proper Hours Day is a light hearted campaign and our ‘asks’ shouldn’t stretch too many bosses – thank your staff for going that extra mile at work, and encourage them to take a proper lunch break and leave on time.

But the campaign is also good time to ask whether it’s really necessary for workers to do 1.8 billion hours of unpaid overtime a year and, if not, how we can cut down those hours.

One of the easiest ways to cut down on unpaid overtime is to end Britain’s culture of pointless presenteeism. Too many employers still judge staff on the hours spent at their desk, rather than the work they actually do. This, combined with heightened anxiety about job security, means that many people feel unable to leave work on time, even if their work is complete.

Forcing staff to stay at desks for no good reason doesn’t lead to more work being done, adds to the company’s energy bills and is extremely frustrating for staff who have better things to do with their time than hang around at work. Getting rid of these unpaid hours would help everyone.

Macho presenteeism can also discriminate those with caring responsibilities. Employers should not make mothers feel guilty for example if they need to leave work on time to pick up their children from school. Sadly we know that this happen to many women, whose careers are put on hold when long hours become impossible.

We also know that a lot of unpaid overtime is due to heavy workloads. This kind of long hours culture is a false economy. If staff are constantly required to work excessively long hours under heavy pressure from management, it can cause stress, anxiety and makes people unproductive.

Occasionally cramming in the hours to meet a deadline may be okay for some, but consistently working like this is bad for employees’ health and their performance suffers as a result. Faced with this situation, employers should consider whether a few more members of staff would ease workloads and make everyone far more productive.

So make sure you, your colleagues and your boss all work your proper hours today. If you’ve got a problem with long hours at work, check out our advice on workSMART, or better still, contact your union.

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