According to new research, UK workers are working an average of almost eight hours per week in unpaid overtime, amounting to £4.2 billion in unpaid labour. 

A new study by the ADP Research Institute highlights how the pandemic has heightened the amount of unpaid overtime that workers are undertaking.

The study notes that whilst unpaid overtime stood at an average of 6 hours weekly in 2019, this has steadily grown over the last two years. In 2020, this rose to 7 hours a week and has now climbed to just under eight.

In addition to this, UK workers have been taking on a heavier workload than their counterparts in Europe.

Whilst the European average of unpaid overtime was 6.7 hours a week, UK employees are currently working an average of 7.8 hours per week without pay. This includes working through breaks and starting early or staying late to put in extra work daily for no additional pay.

Jeff Phipps, Managing Director, ADP UK, commented:

Stagnating productivity is a huge challenge in the UK, yet employers are still fostering a culture of long hours and presenteeism, despite evidence that it doesn’t work.

Due to the pandemic, unpaid overtime has risen to eight hours this year alone. That’s two hours more compared to 2019. We know that employees perform well when they are engaged, healthy and motivated, with fair and transparent compensation for their efforts. Contrary to the high levels of unpaid overtime, which will only leave employees at risk of burnout, with negative long-term impacts for both productivity and performance.

Worryingly, over a quarter of UK employees (26 per cent) are giving away more than 10 hours per week for free to their employers – up from one in five before the pandemic in 2019.

This was especially true for essential workers who completed 8.9 hours per week on average.

Young workers were also the most likely age bracket to work overtime with 18-24-year-olds working an average of 9.35 hours unpaid.

The study calculates that this unpaid overtime amounts to around £219bn a year in free labour.

This trend in working longer hours has been connected to the shift of working from home and hybrid working.

Those working from home estimate they are putting in more unpaid overtime than those based in the workplace or on-site, at 8.1 hours per week on average, compared to 7.1 hours.

However, those taking a hybrid approach, combining home working for part of the week and on-site working the rest of the time, believe they are doing the most of all, at 9.21 hours.

Jeff Phipps, Managing Director, ADP UK, continued to explain how the responsibility falls on the employer to ensure staff are not overworking:

It’s the role of leaders and managers to adapt to the ever-changing work landscape and set realistic objectives for employees while ensuring they have the resources and support to reach them within contracted hours.

Action is needed to shift the focus from quantity of hours worked to quality of output while giving staff sufficient downtime to recharge and spend time with their families. And if overtime is essential, employers must ensure that the additional hours are both rewarded and recognised effectively.

*This research has been documented in the ADP Research Institute’s report ‘People at Work 2021: A Global Workforce View’ which surveyed  32,471 workers in 17 countries around the world between 17 November and 11 December 2020.