In a disconcerting trend highlighting the prevalence of unpaid overtime in the United Kingdom, a recent survey conducted by HR software provider Ciphr has unveiled that a staggering 49 percent of employees consistently work unpaid hours.
This phenomenon appears to have become ingrained in the work culture, with millions of workers shortening their lunch breaks and extending their workdays to keep up with their professional responsibilities.
The study, which polled 1,000 UK workers, revealed that the frequency of unpaid overtime has overshadowed compensated extra work, with a notable discrepancy of 49 percent against 23 percent.
Among those who regularly contribute unpaid hours, the average accumulation per week reaches just over three hours, equivalent to 184 minutes. Over a standard five-day workweek, this translates to an additional 37 minutes per shift.
Which demographics does this concern the most?
An interesting finding is that around 11 percent of the surveyed workforce is dedicating an astonishing five extra unpaid hours each week. This trend is particularly prevalent among certain demographics, such as senior managers, 25-34-year-olds, remote workers, and individuals employed in legal services and education sectors.
While it is commonly acknowledged that some degree of unpaid work is expected, especially among salaried employees, the extent to which these minutes accumulate when performed too frequently can be alarming. For instance, the survey reveals that an average employee could effectively be working an extra 18 days, or 139 hours, per year without compensation if they continue contributing three hours of unpaid overtime weekly.
The survey also highlights the practice of truncating or forgoing lunch breaks as one of the most prevalent methods of overworking. During the week of the survey, only 36 percent of respondents managed to take their full lunch break daily, while a concerning 23 percent hardly took any lunch break at all.
What are the risks?
If this overworking pattern, comprising both extended work hours and skipped breaks, persists over the long term, it poses the risk of negatively affecting individuals’ health and well-being. It could lead to heightened stress levels, burnout, and potential resentment among employees, particularly if the unpaid overtime is driven by overwhelming workloads, understaffing, or unrealistic performance targets.
To address this issue, it is crucial for employees to keep track of the extra minutes worked and communicate concerns with employers promptly. Ciphr has developed an unpaid hours calculator to help individuals estimate the extent of potential unpaid overtime they contribute each year.
Claire Williams, Chief People Officer at Ciphr, stresses the significance of addressing excessive unpaid hours with employers. She acknowledges that while some extra work can be beneficial, frequent and substantial unpaid overtime can lead to underlying problems that need urgent attention. Williams also emphasises the importance of using tools like employee pulse surveys to gauge the well-being and job satisfaction of workers, bridging the connection between their happiness and the impact of overtime.
The survey sheds light on the prevalence of unpaid overtime in the UK workforce, sparking discussions about its impact on well-being, work culture, and business productivity. As employees and employers come to terms with the implications of this trend, it becomes imperative to strike a balance between extra dedication and safeguarding both individual and organisational health.
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 the 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.