Revealed: We work for nothing 38 days a year

Working late tonight? Or maybe you skipped lunch to finish that urgent job for the boss?

Thursday, 30th June 2016, 1:00 pm
More and more salaried staff are doing unpaid overtime as firms cut their workforce and leave those who remain facing a heavier schedule

You aren’t alone. More than five million people end up working more than their contract says – some every day–- and doing it for absolutely nothing.

And, after last week’s Brexit vote, there are real fears the situation could get even worse if the EU Working Time Directive no longer offers workers any protection.

A new study shows unpaid overtime means the average salaried member of staff donates a staggering 38 days a year to their company for free.

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Staff are feeling exhausted and a heavier workload means they have to eat lunch at their desk

Asked why they do it, many say it is the only way they are able to do their job properly.

Workers in the North West are among the most generous with their own time, putting in almost eight hours extra a week.

The latest figures show 470,000 did unpaid overtime worth more than £2.7bn to employers in the region last year – the equivalent of £5,792 each. Only staff in London and the West Midlands clocked up more.

The average working week in the UK is now 43.6 hours compared with a European average of 40.3 and limits of just 35 in France.

Staff are feeling exhausted and a heavier workload means they have to eat lunch at their desk

And the TUC has issued a stark warning about “burn out Britain” saying too much work could be detrimental to our health.

“Britain’s long hours culture is hitting productivity and putting workers’ health at risk,” said NW regional secretary Lynn Collins.

“Working more than 48 hours a week massively increases the risk of strokes, heart disease and diabetes. We need stronger rules around excessive working.”

Bizarrely the latest study was carried out by the veterinary charity SPANA which wanted to highlight the plight of over-worked animals abroad and compare their lives with those of humans. Chief executive Jeremy Hulme said: “I think most people will be surprised to learn that British employees work the equivalent of seven-and-a-half weeks extra each year without any more money to show for it.

Staff are feeling exhausted and a heavier workload means they have to eat lunch at their desk

“Thankfully the majority of people enjoy their jobs and have reasonable working conditions, unlike the millions of working animals overseas.”

In interviews with 2,000 working adults, SPANA researchers found that on average people start work at least 17 minutes before they are officially meant to.

At lunch time they take only 31 minutes of their hour’s break. And they leave the building at the end of their day’s work 16 minutes later than they should.

Add to that an average of 16 minutes sifting through emails and documents at home, and the sum total of overtime in a “normal” day can be as much as one hour 18 minutes, or six-and-a-half hours a week. In a full year that can amount to 305 hours 30 minutes - or seven and a half weeks - which is more time freely donated to the company than a worker gets in paid holidays.

Staff are feeling exhausted and a heavier workload means they have to eat lunch at their desk

So why do we do it?

Asked what their reasons were for working above and beyond the call of duty, 41 per cent said they didn’t feel they could do their jobs properly without putting in those additional hours.

Even more - 60 per cent - believed they were expected to do unpaid overtime as and when the management felt it necessary. A third revealed they were made to feel guilty if they left the office first at the end of the day.

Many said their company was under-staffed, so they had no choice. And others said they did it in order to be the best at their job, to impress the boss, or to feel their job was more secure if they gave that bit extra.

Almost half said they believed their boss could differentiate between those who only work their set hours and those willing to put in more for the sake of the company.

But putting in those extra hours is taking its toll. Around 54 per cent of staff admit they are “absolutely exhausted” at the end of a working week.

James, a middle manager from Bispham, confessed most days he works at least one extra hour, if not two or three, trying to keep on top of the job.

“A few staff manage to get out bang on time,” he said. “But I don’t know how they do it, because most of us are regularly late. It’s got to the point now where it is pretty much expected. And you feel guilty if you’re one of the first out of the door.

“We have lost staff over the past two or three years and that has meant we all have to work a lot harder and that means staying longer. It’s not good, but at least we’ve still got a job.”

The TUC estimates that the 470,193 (16.1 per cent) who did unpaid overtime in the North West last year saved their employers more than £52m a week.

Of all the jobs where workers give something for nothing, education has by far the most staff puttting in those extra shifts.

Nationally 492,000 people working in schools, colleges and universities do more than they are paid for.

But in the banking, financial and insurance industry there has been a three per cent drop in overtime from 176,000 to 170,000.

Lynn Collins said: “Too many workplaces in the North West tolerate a long-hours culture. We don’t want to turn Britain into a nation of clock watchers.

“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 employers’ organisation, the CBI, has defended the nation’s working culture.

“Managerial workers often work longer hours because they want to,” said Deputy Director General John Cridland last year.

“Operational staff often work longer hours because they are paid for it.”