Way back in, ooh, last month we reported on Carreras –v- UFPS, a case on the extent to which an employer’s expectation of overtime working could be the basis of a disability discrimination claim even where it was the employee’s conduct which had generated it https://www.employmentlawworldview.com/when-overtime-goes-bad-employers-duties-to-clarify-expectations-for-disabled-staff/.

As if to shed some further light on that question, global professional services recruiter Morgan McKinley has kindly surveyed 2,600 professionals in the banking and finance sector on their overtime working, with these results:

  • 81% of respondents regularly work beyond their contracted hours, with the longest extra hours by the most senior staff. As to why, 75% felt “obligated” or “very obligated” to do so.  That is a strong word – my online thesaurus suggests as alternatives compelled, duty-bound, contracted, forced, required and the faintly concerning enslaved.
  • But the survey does not deal with the key question of how that sense of obligation arises and so we cannot say that it is necessarily anything said or done by the employer. It could equally well be personal ambitions for advancement or remuneration, anxiety about job security or peer pressure, so the question raised in last month’s case can still be asked – how far should the employer be responsible for this?
  • The issue is not a small one, either legally or from the employment relations perspective. Nearly 86% of the respondents said that their overtime working had an impact on their work/life balance, a “heavy impact” in over half of those cases.  6% of respondents said that they did not know, meaning either that their home life is fairly wretched even at its best and/or or that their idea of work/life balance has not progressed beyond being at work while still alive.
  • And what is it all for? 87% do it for love alone, it would appear, claiming not to receive any separate compensation for the additional hours.  This strikes me as potentially rather disingenuous given salary and bonus levels among financial professionals relative to many others, but perhaps the best way of determining if you are paid extra for those additional hours may be to stop doing them and see what happens?
  • Never mind, at least there is the lunch break, surely? However, the survey indicates that the days of the long City lunch are clearly well behind us – 76% of respondents generally eat at their desk and scarcely a fifth even get to leave the building at all.  So the late great Douglas Adams’ opening lines above were right after all.
  • Not a pretty picture in terms of overall hours, therefore, so what could really be done by way of reasonable adjustment for a disabled employee like Mr Carreras or for broader retention/engagement purposes? Two-thirds of employers allowed working from home (though with varying degrees of proactivity and willingness) and 60% offered flexible start or finish times.  Just over half of respondents said that flexible working would make their lives easier, while a despairing 35% aimed simply for fewer meetings.

The Morgan McKinley commentary refers to “a widening gap between modern business philosophy around smart working and the reality of old-fashioned noses to the grindstone”, perhaps evidence of a continuing Monty Python Four Yorkshiremen approach to working as a professional.  But this survey raises a separate question – since most employers are willing to offer flexible working and most employees seem to want it, is the blockage here really the employers’ attitude or the employees’?  Morgan McKinley say that “Businesses are facing an alarming burnout and need to evolve work practices”, but really?  Returning to last month’s case, UFPS could well have offered Mr Carreras more overtly than they did the ability to work flexibly and/or remotely, but would he have taken them up on it if they had?  And if he had not, fearing for his bonus or prospects or status among his peers, would UFPS still have been liable?  Surely there must be a point where an expectation based on the employer’s requests or demands can be distinguished from one driven by the employee’s own concerns, when that liability ought to cease.