From the TUC

Unpaid overtime can’t be a blank cheque, says TUC

26 Feb 2016, by in Working Life

UK employees worked £35.1 billion worth of unpaid overtime last year, with 5.1 million employees putting in an extra 7.7 hours per week the TUC reports today for the twelfth annual Work Your Proper Hours Day.

I can reveal that  there was some slightly better news, since the percentage of employees working  unpaid overtime has not kept pace with the growth in jobs, so that it fell from 20.3 in 2014 to 19.4 per cent this year. Its too early to say whether this is the start of a better  trend though.

In far too many cases, the flexibility of professional and managerial culture has become a blank cheque, with salaried workers expected to put in an excessive hours of free work. Frankly, with unemployment falling and the labour market staring to tighten, the UK needs to start to consider the quality of working life and how we can improve productivity rather than trying to rely on long hours of unpaid overtime.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady says:

“Few people mind putting in extra effort from time to time when it is needed, but it is too easy for extra time to be taken for granted and expected day in day out.

The TUC’s Work Your Proper Hours day is a good opportunity to think about the issues, and to try to take a proper lunch break and go home on time.

Although numerous surveys have shown that excessive workloads are the biggest driver for unpaid overtime, the second biggest factor  is a workplace culture of long hours. In such cases, employees are commonly judged by the length of time that they are at work and not by how well they perform, so nobody wants to be first to leave. Indeed, the long hours culture has become so ingrained that a significant minority of professionals report that they will stay late even when they have no work to do.

Some employers are badly misjudging the negative effect that excessive hours has on their employees health, motivation and turnover. Long hours lead to poorer quality work and more mistakes, as fatigue undermines concentration.

Furthermore, all the signs are that increased connectivity has made the problem worse. The norms around when it is proper to be expected to use smartphones, e-mail  are weak at best. Some firms need 24 hour communications, but most do not. Perhaps there is a need for new agreements or rules. Volkswagen turns off its s Blackberry server at 6pm, for example.

To be absolutely clear, we are not calling for the UK to become a nation of clock watchers working to rule. We recognise the need for a reasonable amount of flexibility, but it needs to be mutual. For example, one way of dealing with peaks in demand is to introduce flexi-time or time-off in lieu.

More broadly, what is needed is a new focus on humanising work, including a more widespread recognition that sustained excessive hours are likely to be negative. In the coming period employees  will be increasingly likely to expect a decent work life balance, and to change jobs if they don’t get what they want. Employers are already reporting that “generation Y” workers are much more likely to want to insist on flexible and reasonable hours.

We should recognise more clearly that  that time is a precious resource for all of us. This is not a new idea, but wisdom has rather been mislaid in recent years. The 19th Century US Whig politician Horace Mann put the value of time rather neatly:

“Lost – yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward is offered, for they are gone forever. “

So today is about recognising how much workers put into their jobs and working out how we can do things better. If we get it right, hard pressed unpaid overtime  workers will have a better life – and they will also be more productive.

2 Responses to Unpaid overtime can’t be a blank cheque, says TUC

  1. Mr Hasan Abdulla
    Feb 28th 2016, 7:47 pm

    This is a well written and well argued essay about the length of the working day. All that is written here reminds me of what Marx called the de-humanisation of the labour process. This report may not be alarming but it is certainly unsettling to those who are facing longer hours and in full time employment. Bravo Paul!

  2. Ken Toulson
    Mar 27th 2016, 12:50 pm

    The problems we are now facing is that over the last 30 years New Labour, the TUC and trade unions have allowed working class gains to be gradually eroded.

    The TUC should now be ditching the rhetoric and starting a fightback. No one can be so misguided now as to believe that this vicious government will back down on the attacks on teachers, doctors or the Trade Union Bill just in the face of petitions, pathetic appealing, soliciting and kowtowing to self-interested politicians. After all the damage this government has done, and will continue to do, to the NHS, public services and welfare state, the only thing that is going to stop them is a full-blown general strike, but there’s not even a whiff of this coming from New Labour, the TUC or trade union leaders.