10/06/2002

Report reveals reasons for UK’s long working hours

According to the latest figures from the Employment Relations Research Series, workers in the UK have the longest hours in Europe because they want to increase pay and also because of the sheer volume of work needed to be addressed.

The recent report from the group brings together research which looks at working time patterns in the UK and makes comparisons with EU and other developed countries, with a view to explaining why the UK workforce has some of the longest working hours in Europe.

Interest in this topic was stimulated by the emerging debate within government, industry and other organisations about the effectiveness of long hours working, particularly with respect to organisational performance and increasing productivity. It was commissioned against the background of increasing demands for better work-life balance and new government measures to tackle long hours working; most notably the Working Time Regulations that came into force on 1 October 1998 (WTR).

The report shows that 11% of employees in the UK work long hours, with men significantly more likely to work longer hours than women. The report also shows clear life cycles with people aged between 30 and 49 being the most likely to work over and above 48 hours a week.

The impact of long hours on employers and employees is less clear. The report states that overall it is not possible to establish conclusively whether long hours has beneficial, detrimental or neutral overall effects.

However the report does show clear correlation between long hours working and deterioration of task performance.

Manual and non-manual workers give significantly different reasons for long hours working. The reasons given for long hours working depend greatly on whether overtime is paid or not paid.

However the most common reasons for working long hours are to increase pay (where overtime is paid) or to meet the needs of the job (where it is not paid).

The report further shows that the proportion of UK employees working hours has increased over the last decade.

Uniquely, in the UK this has been accompanied by a growing polarisation in working hours with some groups working longer and other working shorter hours.

(AMcE)

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