Photo © Jess Hurd
Leave your desk and go home…
If you’re reading this on your computer at work you need to switch it off and go home! But before you do that, let me briefly explain why.
Today is Work Your Proper Hours Day. This is the first day of the year when the 5.4m people who regularly work unpaid overtime effectively start getting paid for the work they do. If you’re one of the many people who puts in extra unpaid hours for your employer today is the day to leave work on time.
So why has the TUC been making such a fuss about unpaid overtime? The Work Your Proper Hours Day campaign started ten years ago in response to the endless surveys and newspaper articles that sought to characterise British workers as skivers, shirkers and time wasters.
These stories have not gone away. Only last week, an ONS report showing that the number of days lost to sickness absence rates had fallen by 40 per cent in the last 20 years, was reported in the Daily Express as 131m days being lost to ‘sickies’ last year. According to the right-wing press, any time off from work – be it a bad back, a broken leg or treatment for cancer – is framed as bogus, with sickness always described in inverted commas.
The reality is that workers across the UK are very hard-working. Not only do we work among the longest hours in Europe, many of those hours – over 40m a week – are unpaid. These unpaid hours save employers a fortune, around £33bn a year, and many bosses do not even thank their staff for doing them. Note to bosses reading this, today is the day when you should thank your staff for gong that extra mile – though this gratitude should be more than an annual ritual, prompted by the TUC.
Unpaid overtime is on the increase. Last year, an extra 331,000 people regularly worked unpaid overtime – the biggest ever increase.
Some of this is down to the growing number of people in work, which is something we all welcome. However the likelihood of working unpaid overtime has also increased to a record level, an altogether less welcome development. This is likely down to the fact that while there are more people in work, people are still concerned about their job security and work pressures are rising. This is exactly the kind of atmosphere where a long hours culture grows.
We want recent jobs growth to be accompanied by rising job security so that people don’t feel pressured into working long hours. But there’s plenty individual managers and employers can do to cut down on the number of unpaid hours that staff do.
Employers need to get better at assessing staff on the work people do, rather than the amount of time spent at their desks. This would cut out pointless presenteeism. And if there really is so much going on that everyone has to work ludicrously long hours, employers should consider the bold move of taking on more staff. There are over 2.3m unemployed people that would gladly take them up on their offer.