How much is too much work?
24 February 2012
We all know that work is good for our health. However, with too much work, the productivity value may in fact decrease with each extra hour, as working overtime regularly leads to burnout. In addition, research shows that extra hours of work are associated with depression and significantly increase the risk of a heart attack. Putting in extra hours spills into social relationships and affects caring responsibilities.
Trades Union Congress estimates that UK employees put in £28.8 bn worth of unpaid hours of work each year, or 55 days per worker. They’ve calculated that if all the unpaid overtime worked by the average employee were put at the start of the year, they would only start ‘earning for themselves’ from mid-February each year. To mark the vast number of unpaid days, the Work Your Proper Hours Day (24 February) invites individuals to have a proper lunchbreak and leave work on time to start enjoying the weekend.
At the time of the recession, employers are understandably keen to achieve the same-level or higher performance targets with a smaller workforce, presenting employees with more demanding tasks and forcing them to put in extra hours. Many organisations have nurtured the culture of long hours, where those who choose to leave earlier than others are branded bad team players.
Under the stress of competition for jobs, employees themselves tend to reiterate the long-hours culture. UK employees are currently among the hardest working in Europe – with an average of 42.7 hours a week, behind only Austria and Greece. Managers are under particular pressure to put in extra, as they have to serve as an example for junior employees.
However, staying in the office just for the sake of demonstrating ‘engagement’ is, in fact, presenteeism. In practice, many individuals will stay in the office longer than required by their work demands just through peer or manager pressure, leaving work not having done much, but most importantly with a feeling that they’ve been treated unfairly.
In the current climate of job insecurity the onus is on the employer to foster the culture of ensuring that the extra working hours – if unavoidable – are healthy and rewarding. While organisations may not be able to afford paying for that overtime, most employees will still be willing to contribute extra, as long as their managers explicitly acknowledge that loyalty and offer discretionary rewards like flexible hours or time in lieu.
Are you putting in unnecessarily long hours? Is it a healthy effort? To test your work-life balance and identify areas for improvement, complete a free work SMART questionnaire developed by Professor Cary Cooper.