Over a third of UK employees pressured to work overtime by fear of being judged

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A third of bosses (31 per cent) expect workers to stay later than their contractual hours

A study has found that workers in Birmingham are the most likely to stay at work after hours to keep up appearances, with 44 per cent of the city’s workforce impacted by a growing trend known as presenteeism. Employees throughout the country feel pressured to work overtime because they fear their colleagues and bosses will think they don’t work hard enough if they leave on time, according to new research from leading job board totaljobs.

 A culture of presenteeism is forcing more than a third of British employees (38 per cent) to stay at work past their standard working hours. Worryingly this culture is being encouraged by employers, with 31 per cent of bosses saying that those who leave work on-time are looked down on.

Hot on the heels of Birmingham is Nottingham, where 43 per cent of workers say they feel that they have to work overtime for fear of being seen as work shy, whilst workers in Glasgow were the least likely to feel pressured (28 per cent).

The UK cities with the biggest presenteeism problem:

  1. Birmingham (44 per cent)
  2. Nottingham (43 per cent)
  3. Newcastle (40 per cent)
  4. Leeds (40 per cent)
  5. London (39 per cent)


The research found that younger workers are most likely to feel pressured to work overtime with 58 per cent of 18 to 34-year olds worrying their boss or colleagues might think they aren’t working hard enough if they leave on time. This figure is twice as high as workers aged 55 and over (29 per cent) showing a clear divide between generations.

The findings are of concern to businesses as presenteeism can affect productivity1. The UK is currently facing a productivity crisis and is lagging behind other G7 countries. A third of employers (36 per cent) and employees (33 per cent) are united in agreeing that shortening the length of the working day could help improve productivity.

IT and tech professionals feel the most pressure to do more hours (56 per cent), followed by HR (46 per cent) and professional services such as law and accountancy (45 per cent).

Presenteeism also increases amongst higher earners, with half (58 per cent) of workers earning £50,000+ worrying their boss and colleagues think they aren’t working hard enough if they leave on time.

Martin Talbot, Group Marketing Director from totaljobs commented on the findings:

“Presenteeism is becoming an engrained part of British company culture, but working longer hours does not necessarily lead to greater output.

 In fact, our research shows that over a third of employers believe that shorter working hours actually improve productivity. This, alongside the impact that poor work-life balance has upon morale and employee retention explains why many employers are looking to take steps to ensure that their staff go home on-time.”

Grace Marshall, Productivity Expert explained the ways in which presenteeism impacts productivity:

“Presenteeism thrives in a culture that honours ‘busy’ and busy is a poor judge of productivity. Unfortunately, our hard work ethic in the UK often equates commitment to working harder for longer. This inadvertently places more importance on how many hours we spend at work rather than what we achieve as a result.

 Bosses who judge their workers by how many meetings they attend, emails they send and hours they work send a signal that visibility is more important than productivity. But what looks like work isn’t always productive. In fact, it could be creating more work! 

 Companies who give their workers the incentive and flexibility to determine how they do their best work – and reward them based on the impact and value they create rather than the hours they put in – are the ones who will see the best returns in productivity, with a much more focused workforce, greater job satisfaction and improved work life balance.”

 When asked what they are doing to address productivity in their company, one in four (26 per cent) of employers say that they are taking steps to ensure staff don’t work past their contracted hours, offering flexible working options (25 per cent) and ensuring their employees are busy and engaged (25 per cent).

If you’re interested in issues on presenteeism at health at work then take a look at the programme for our leading health and wellbeing summit taking place on the 15th November.

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