Comparing working hours and flexibility across sectors

Morgan McKinley 19.11.2019

Which sector works the most weekly hours? Findings from our comprehensive survey allow us to analyse the different working patterns of employees across Financial Services, Professional Services and Commerce and Industry.

Working patterns across Financial, Professional Services and Commerce sectors

It is widely thought that roles within the Financial Services and Professional Services sectors are synonymous with late nights and early mornings in the office. But with workplace flexibility and having a healthy work-life balance now expected by most, are employees in the Financial and Professional Services sectors truly still slogging out extra-long days?

We surveyed 1,500 individuals, who perform a range of different roles across Financial Services, Professional Services and Commerce industries in the UK, asking about their normal working weeks to investigate exactly what the different levels of working hours are and what the availability of flexibility is like for employees.

Financial Services employees work most hours on a weekly basis

When asked about their weekly hours, the greatest proportion of respondents from each sector selected 38-42 hours. The industry with the highest percentage of employees working 43+ hours every week was Banking at 14%, followed by Professional Services (11%) and then Commerce & Industry (9%). This seems to verify the belief that the financial sector is one of the toughest industries in terms of working hours.

Weekly working hours across industries

A more interesting insight is looking into whether employees work more hours than they are contractually obliged. 93% from the Banking sector answered that they either always, mostly or sometimes work beyond their contracted hours. The proportion was marginally less for Professional Services and Commerce, with both at 92%. Is the British workforce moving towards a culture where working more hours than they are being paid for is the norm?

Overtime is a necessity to cope with monumental workloads 

In terms of how many extra hours are worked per week, Banking employees were the hardest pressed out of the three sectors, with a significant 20% working 10 or more extra hours every week, closely followed by Professional Services at 18% - but are their employers even aware? It seems not: regardless of industry, employees work extra hours without recognition. 92% from the Banking sector, 89% from Professional Services and 90% of Commerce employees who work overtime receive no form of compensation.

Working hours of banking professionals

Why do a large section of employees work more than they should? Consistent across industries, ‘to meet deadlines/cope with workload’ was the top reason, followed by ‘pressure from management’. Individuals are sacrificing their personal lives for work, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they are dedicated to their profession; only 13%, 15% and 11% from Banking, Professional Services and Commerce respectively work beyond their hours to improve their status. Only a small proportion actually feel they achieve lots in those extra hours - an average of just 19% across all industries claimed to be more productive in overtime.

Is the pressure truly coming from management or is it the individuals themselves not wanting to be perceived as lazy? Whatever the reason, an ‘overtime culture’ can contribute to an unhealthy workplace culture which is rife with high levels of stress, numerous sick days and higher turnover rates - allowing staff to work excessively is counterproductive.

Never ‘not working’ - the curse of mobile devices 

Numerous employees are supplied with laptops and mobile phones, and for this reason it isn’t hugely surprising that 62% of respondents across all industries are available on mobile devices outside working hours. Looking at this on an industry specific level, Professional Services had the largest percentage at 69% - this is due to the nature of their work; those working in Tax, Audit or Legal need to be contactable pretty much 24/7.

Professional Services employees who are on mobile devices outside working hours

There is a level of expectation that employees should be contactable at any time of day. Whilst many employees don’t mind a few calls or emails if it makes their working lives easier, it is starting to be recognised as a potential issue and companies need to establish boundaries. For roles in Professional Services, where contact is required around the clock, expectations should be stated formally as a responsibility in the job description so job seekers know exactly what they are getting themselves into.

Which sectors have the greatest access to flexible working?

55% of respondents across all sectors believe that flexible working is no longer a benefit but is expected; people want jobs that allow them to attend to their busy personal lives. Almost every industry is moving towards a working model that allows their workforce to work when and where they want. 

Financial Services had the largest proportion of employees whose employers offer flexible working at 71%, with 97% of that percentage selecting ‘work from home’ as the flexibility offered. There is an interesting correlation between increased offering of flexible working and excessive working hours - could employers be allowing their staff to work flexibly as a sly way of actually getting them to work more hours?

Prevalence of types of flexible working across industries

Managed properly, flexibility is positive for organisations and their employees

The majority of both Professional Services and Commerce employees outlined how ‘not being able to switch off’ was the biggest negative aspect of flexibility; it seems that those employed in these sectors feel that they have to constantly be ‘on call’ if they work flexibly. Interestingly, Banking employees voiced their concerns that flexible working results in a ‘less engaged workforce’

This implies that the Financial Services sector holds a deep-rooted negative perception of employees who don’t have a consistent presence in the office, and this is compounded further as 40% of Banking employees believe that those choosing to work flexibly decrease their chances for career progression. These negative perceptions do not seem to be shared by employers; 45% of Banking hiring managers believe there is ‘no downside’ to workplace flexibility. 

Banking employees think progression can be damaged by working flexibly

Despite this, the majority of feedback is positive. 84% of Banking, 86% of Professional Services and 79% of Commerce employers think flexibility will positively impact their employees in the long-term. When the question was reversed, asking employees how company performance and profitability has been impacted, 75% from Financial Services, 78% from Professional Services and 80% from Commerce believe the implementation of flexible working has had a positive influence.

Employees content to work more hours for no compensation

Despite the prolific demand for flexibility and the focus on employee wellbeing, most employees are prepared to slog out longer hours than they are contractually obliged to every week, without compensation. Organisations that allow this are, perhaps obliviously, creating an unhealthy workplace culture. But because most have the opportunity to work from home or have adjusted hours throughout the week, they seem content and positive about the whole workplace flexibility situation.

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