Watching the clock: Are UK professionals working too long for too little?

David Leithead 31.10.2019

Many organisations are offering greater autonomy to their employees to decide their work patterns, and more of those employees than ever are embracing that. But who’s winning? Who’s actually making the most of it - employee or employer? Working hours are increasing, but there seems to be little or no corresponding increase in pay or recognition.

Part 1 of 3: Working hours are on the rise

Our extensive 2019 working hours and flexible working survey has revealed how, despite the increasing adoption of flexibility and the demand for a healthy work/life balance, 91% of white collar office professionals in the UK are working beyond their weekly contracted hours. Most do it because they feel pressured by their workload, yet they don’t feel more productive from working the extra hours and they don’t receive any compensation. Our comprehensive survey had 1,500 respondents and in this series of 3 articles, we examine the findings.

A large proportion of British professionals are working longer than ‘full-time’ 

A recent study by the TUC shows that workers in the UK are putting in the longest hours of employees across the EU. Full-time employees in Britain worked an average of 42 hours a week in 2018, nearly two hours more than the EU average – equivalent to an extra two and a half weeks a year. Our own research echoes this, suggesting it’s true across the spectrum of the workforce with 44% of office professionals signing contracts that commit them to a minimum of 38-42 hours per week, and 11% working to contracts that expect more than 43 hours. 

So if ‘full-time’ still means 5 days of 9am-5pm (minus an hour for lunch), then it appears the majority of people are expected to do more than that. On that note, the boundaries of the working day are also shifting. ‘Working 9 to 5’ is no longer the norm and it is predicted that by 2025 it will become entirely redundant thanks to evolving routines, the focus on a more inclusive workforce and new technologies. Starting hours vary enormously, and as a consequence, home time arrives at a range of hours, as outlined in the graphs displaying respondents’ daily work timings. That’s interesting in itself, but it may also be a contributing factor to why people are going beyond their contracted hours, as the notion of clocking on and clocking off has disappeared for good.

UK Working Hours

Large workloads drive 91% of British professionals to work ‘overtime’

Whatever time the working day begins and finishes, every employee has a certain number of hours on their contract. 31% of respondents believe they ‘always’ work beyond their contracted hours, 26% ‘mostly’ work longer than they should and 34% ‘sometimes’ do. This means a huge 91% of white collar office professionals will at times work more than their contracts state, whilst only 9% claim to ‘never’ work overtime. The majority of those who do work beyond their contracts work up to 5 extra hours each week (57%), just over a quarter (26%) work 5-9 additional hours and a significant 17% go well beyond their contracted hours by 10 hours or more. When subsequently asked to describe why they work overtime, the most frequent response was ‘to meet deadlines/cope with workload’

But do additional ‘working hours’ equate to a higher productivity output? It seems not; employees feel they should work these extra hours but they don't feel any more productive and also don't feel rewarded for working beyond their contracted hours - 31% ‘feel it is expected’ that they work overtime but only 19% claim they are actually ‘more productive’ in this additional time. 90% of those who work beyond their contracted hours receive no form of additional compensation.

Working Hours - No compensation for extra hours

Does too much work negatively affect mental and physical health?

With the spotlight increasingly focusing on employees’ mental health and wellbeing, employers need to consider their responsibilities to ensure they appropriately care for their staff - many companies may be shocked to discover that their employees feel an inherent pressure to work extra hours each week. Earlier this year, we carried out research to investigate the state of mental health awareness across UK workplaces and strikingly, 74% of white collar office professional respondents claimed they were either 'offered no support' or 'weren’t aware' if their employer provides any mental health initiatives. Having programmes in place is not only a useful attraction and retention tool, but it also helps to create a happy and positive office culture as well. 

Employers should ensure staff are suitably supported, rested and encourage them to take a break from their desks every day - too many of us spend the majority of our days in front of a screen, and that has many obvious and well documented negative impacts on health. Despite this being widely known, it seems a large proportion of the UK’s workforce get through their working days without even stepping foot outside. Startlingly, almost half of respondents either ‘don’t take any form of lunch break’ or ‘eat at their desk but continue working’. I guess we all know how important a break is for keeping the mind fresh and productive, yet we don’t do it. Can employers do more to affect these stats?

UK office professionals habitually work overtime without extra reward 

Employees may have more of a say over when their working day starts and finishes, but they also seem to be working a greater number of hours every week to cope with their workload, without recognition. All this culminates in a dilemma where employees are more susceptible to mental burnout and consequently, employers see a dent in business performance. By understanding and helping drive the workplace evolution through discouraging employees from working overtime, businesses can supercharge their productivity and do more for less, faster than before.

About the survey respondents…

The majority of respondents work across Banking & Financial Services, Professional Services or Commerce & Industry. 48% were male, 51% female. Just under three quarters were permanently employed (74%), 21% were temporarily employed and the remainder were either self-employed or unemployed. 63% of respondents work in London, 37% outside London. The highest proportion of respondents were at mid-management level (39%), followed by operational/executive (25%) and senior management (18%) - the remainder consisted of entry level, C-Suite and those who didn’t want to disclose their seniority.

David Leithead's picture
Chief Operations Officer UK
dleithead@morganmckinley.co.uk