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Working Longer Hours Has Become a Feature of the Economic Downturn


Copyright (c) 2012 Alison Withers

Although UK employees are generally believed to work longer hours than workers in any other EU country recently published figures from the OECD (Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development) put Greece at the top of the European list with workers amassing an average of 2,017 hours per year.

The UK is at 14th place in the OECD list), which covers the 34 member countries, with its workers averaging 1,647 per year.

Nevertheless since the onset of the global economic crisis in 2008 evidence has been accumulating that UK workers are working longer hours and often for less pay than previously.

In 2008 a survey by Friends Provident had already found that of 2,700 adults surveyed, one in four said they planned to work longer hours over the next six months, while one in eight intended to take on a second job.

By July 2011 the UK newspaper the Guardian was reporting that of 5,002 working adults surveyed, one in five were working longer hours since the onset of the recession and 16% reported that their annual salary has been reduced.

Almost a quarter said they did not expect to receive a pay rise in the next three years just one in 10 expected a promotion at work during the next 12 months.

It would not be surprising that at a time of high levels of unemployment and intense competition for any available work fear and insecurity would prompt people to work longer hours, often for no extra pay.

It may also be that there is a knock-on effect, for example if the manager or director has taken on more work and extended their hours it is likely that their PA or secretary will find that their own workload has also increased.

Similarly candidates looking for work may also feel under pressure to agree to working conditions that include longer working hours in order to get a job regardless of any EU regulations designed to limit the maximum hours a person should be required to work.

It may also be the case that new graduates looking for their first position could be so anxious to get a start that they will agree to long hours or unpaid internships or work experience.

It is also true that struggling businesses are restructuring in order to survive the ongoing recession and doing their utmost to cut back on overheads, sometimes by making people redundant and distributing their work among remaining employees so adding to their responsibilities and duties.

Instead some have asked employees to reduce their hours or forgo overtime pay in the hope that they will be able to keep going and keep valued and experienced people with them until conditions improve.

Working longer hours may not have benefits for either the business or the individual. There is at least some evidence that increasing working hours leads not to greater productivity but to a greater risk of making a mistake and to a higher incidence of time off work through stress or ill health.

Given the competition for jobs and high unemployment since the onset of the global economic crisis in 2008 it would not be surprising if job candidates agreed to work longer hours in order to get work. By Ali Withers.