Today is this year’s Work Your Proper Hours Day Work Your Proper Hours Day – from, the first day for which the average person working unpaid overtime would get paid if they had worked all their unpaid hours together from the start of the year.

According to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), workers across the UK clocked up just shy of a staggering two billion hours of unpaid overtime last year, worth £29.2 billion to the economy.

What’s more, UK workers fare worst (or best, depending on your perspective) compared to our European colleagues, with full time workers in the UK doing some of the longest hours in Europe and well exceeding the EU average of 41.6 hours per week BBC NEWS | Business | UK work week among EU’s longest.

It is easy to see, in light of current economic uncertainty, how a few extra hours of unpaid overtime can provide a boost to ailing UK businesses.  It is equally obvious that fear of being made redundant may drive employees to work longer hours to avoid this, but in either case, should such a culture be encouraged?

Regular long hours can cause employees to become fatigued, in turn affecting the quality of their work and their safety around the workplace, and low morale can be infectious and disruptive amongst colleagues. Regular overtime can also have a negative impact on an employee’s home life and health, with research suggesting that full time employees who regularly work three or more hours of overtime each day have a significantly higher risk of heart-related problems. So whilst it may provide a boost in the short term, ‘getting something for nothing’ may actually prove bad for business in the long run.

So what can be done?

The TUC estimates that the volume of unpaid overtime last year would be enough to create over one million additional full-time roles across the UK, and is urging employers to reduce the amount of overtime in favour of creating new jobs. However, if this is not a viable option (perhaps on the obvious grounds that they would then have to pay for something they are currently getting for nothing) then taking a few simple steps can go a long way towards ensuring a healthier happier workforce. These could include:

  • introducing measures to monitor the amount of overtime undertaken by any one employee to highlight particular areas of strain or excessive workload within the business which can then be addressed internally;
  • introducing a rota for overtime work to ensure that the burden is spread consistently; and/or
  • introducing incentives or a benefit / reward system to acknowledge the overtime worked.

Whatever the answer, there is truth behind the old maxim ‘Work hard, play hard’.   A healthy work-life balance may help lead to a healthy workforce.  Sadly the phrase we should probably treat with equal respect is “Live fast, die young”.