In workplaces across the country, employees are increasingly working overtime, often driven by workload pressures, looming deadlines, or the desire to excel in their careers.

A new study conducted by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) sheds light on the pervasive practice of unpaid overtime, revealing that employers saved an astonishing £26 billion in free labour throughout the past year.

According to the TUC report, teachers emerged as the most likely group to engage in unpaid overtime, surpassing four hours per week on average.

The financial toll on educators is estimated to be around £15,000 in lost earnings, underscoring the significant impact of this phenomenon on various sectors.

Working overtime: Unmanageable workloads

Kate Palmer, Employee Services Director at Peninsula, acknowledged the value of employees going the extra mile but emphasised the importance of ensuring they do not feel compelled by unmanageable workloads. Palmer stated, “Employers have a reasonable responsibility for employee wellbeing, including managing stress and burnout. Regularly working over contracted hours puts employees at risk of burnout, and employers must ensure everyone has enough time away from work to relax and disconnect.”

Palmer urged employers to proactively address employee concerns, suggesting adjustments such as readjusting deadlines or redistributing work among team members. She highlighted the cumulative effect of seemingly modest extra hours, stating, “While staying behind for an average of just four hours per week may not sound like a lot, over the course of a year, it becomes significant.”

Average worker loses over £7000 annually

The TUC study disclosed that the average worker loses more than £7,209 annually due to unpaid overtime, emphasising the financial impact on individuals. Notably, there are no legal obligations for employers to compensate staff for overtime unless specified in employment contracts. However, concerns arise if unpaid overtime leads to wellbeing issues or if employees feel compelled to work extra hours to manage their workloads.

Palmer cautioned that regularly working unpaid overtime, particularly for employees earning close to the national minimum wage, might put employers at risk of breaching wage laws. She concluded, “Employers need to consider the potential consequences if employees regularly work unpaid overtime and earn close to the national minimum wage; the extra hours could potentially leave the employer in breach of national minimum wage laws.”

As the debate over the ethics and impact of unpaid overtime continues, the TUC study serves as a compelling call to reevaluate workplace practices and strike a balance between employee dedication and the potential risks associated with prolonged, unpaid work hours.





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.