A recent study discovered that eight per cent of British employees work a staggering 20 hours or more each week than their contracted hours*.
Our survey of UK workers found that over 35 per cent of employees regularly arrive at work early or stay late, and that younger people are more likely to work longer hours than their older colleagues. By neglecting a healthy work-life balance, employees risk mental and physical health problems. We explore why the UK is addicted to work – and what employers can do to help.
The data we collected in our survey shows how much time UK workers devote to working overtime and how the results differ between demographics. Here are are some of our key findings: Despite younger generations sometimes being labelled as ‘lazy’, our findings seem to point towards the contrary. Of those surveyed, over 40 per cent of 18 to 24-year-old employees admit to working more than their contracted hours, a higher number than any other age group. Ten per cent of 25 to 34-year-olds admitted to working over 20 hours of overtime per week. There is a clear pattern relating to age, as UK workers gradually work less overtime as they get older, with 36 per cent of 35 to 44-years-old working overtime, dropping to 32 per cent for 45 to 54-year-olds. Overall, our research shows that men are marginally more likely to work additional hours than women, with 39 per cent of men working some form of overtime, compared to 32 per cent of women.
Why do people work overtime?
To understand why so many people regularly put in extra time, it’s important to take into account the various reasons why British workers choose to work longer than their contracted hours:
Too much work
The most common cause for employees staying glued to their desks after hours was due to an inability to complete their workload during their regular work hours. There are always times when work is busier than usual, which is when people will often stick around for an extra hour or two. However, it’s when this becomes a regular occurrence that problems begin, often leading to employees working unpaid overtime simply to stay on track.
Research from UC Irvine states that office workers are interrupted every 11 minutes, and it can take up to 23 minutes to get back on track. With so much to derail us in office hours, it might feel necessary for some workers to burn the midnight oil simply to get their day’s work done.
Work emails are a blessing and a curse. They allow us to stay connected with business updates, yet more often than not it leaks into our personal lives, with many people still answering work emails late at night, on weekends and during annual leave. France has recently made it illegal to send work-related emails over the weekend to prevent employee burnout, highlighting just how much of a problem it is to be connected to our work lives in our spare time.
For many employees, especially young professionals, ‘going the extra mile’ is the quickest way to progress up the ladder. While showing commitment to your career and wanting to develop in your company is by no means a bad thing, spending your spare time toiling away will leave you exhausted and could have a negative effect on your work.
The UK has had the weakest wage growth of any G7 country over the past decade, which could indicate why younger generations are working so many extra hours of overtime to boost their income.
How overtime can affect your health?
Whatever the reasons may be, working too hard and too long is the perfect recipe for stress, exhaustion and illness. It could also lead to further, more serious issues such as high blood pressure and insomnia. A study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine even found that employees with high job demands but lower responsibilities have a 45 per cent higher chance of developing Type 2 diabetes. By ensuring you have a healthy work-life balance, you’ll be able to exercise, eat balanced meals and get enough sleep, which are all vital to your mental health, physical wellbeing and happiness levels.
What can employers do?
Employers have a duty of care to their employees, and as such, are required to take all reasonable steps to ensure their teams are happy and safe in the workplace. If employees are regularly working longer than their contracted hours, it’s up to managers to investigate the cause and take action to prevent it. There are measures you can take as an employer to prevent your team from overworking themselves:
Communicate with your team
If you notice an employee is consistently working longer than their contracted hours, it’s important to communicate with them to discuss what is causing them to work overtime. This gives you the opportunity to asses the situation and offer support where needed, whether that’s helping with time management or distributing their workload.
Keep meetings and work emails to a minimum
By evaluating meetings in the workplace, you can ensure that only essential employees are attending to help cut down on wasted business hours. The same goes for out of office emails, make sure they are kept to an absolute minimum to help your employees switch off when they’re out of the office.
Re-evaluate your office space
If you notice that your work environment is causing too many distractions, try creating designated quiet spaces to help employees stay focused. Maintaining a culture of communication is important to a business, but by creating spaces that staff can use to get away from the buzzing office (even an unused meeting room) will help them stay productive during busy periods.
Recognise hard work
Take the time to have a one on one with your employees and let them know that their efforts are appreciated. By acknowledging their commitment and explaining that they don’t need to spend every minute at work, they will understand that quality trumps quantity.
Mike Edwards, Head of People, of Love Energy Savings, highlighted the reasons why it’s important to protect team wellbeing,
Even when done with the best of intentions, sacrificing your personal life to put in a few more hours at the office each week can lead to a downward spiral. A healthy work-life balance is crucial to a business’s success – if your team can’t unwind at the end of the day, they won’t be ready for the next day.
Businesses need to be transparent with their employees to make it easy for them to communicate when they’re having to work beyond normal hours to keep up. If they don’t, they’re putting their staff at risk.
* conducted by Love Energy Savings