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Work Your Proper Hours Day – tackling the culture of unpaid overtime

Published date
UK workers gave their employers £31.2 billion of free labour last year, doing a grand total of two billion hours unpaid overtime.

Five million workers put in an average of 7.4 extra unpaid hours, missing out on an average of £6,265.  

Today is the TUC’s 14th annual Work Your Proper Hours Day. For the average worker, that’s equivalent to not being paid for any work they’ve done from the beginning of the year until today.

Work Your Proper Hours Day is part of the battle against excessive unpaid overtime. As a start, we’re asking that you take your proper lunch break today and go home on time

But what’s wrong with a little flexibility?

A little bit of flexibility is fine. Most people don’t mind staying late occasionally to get a vital report finished or an urgent order out. The trouble is when unpaid overtime is pushed to unreasonable lengths. Working time then squeezes family, friends, hobbies, sports and involvement in the wider community

The worst case of all is working excessive hours on a sustained basis. 3.3 million UK employees regularly work more than 48 hours a week. Studies have shown that these long-hours workers face increased health risks, including stress, depression and heart disease, yet the majority are not even paid overtime for their extra hours. This simply can’t go on.

Over-reliance on unpaid overtime isn’t good for employers either. Long-hours workers get tired, slow down and make more mistakes. It’s foolish to use unpaid overtime as a sticking plaster when what is really needed is better work organisation and smart investment to drive up productivity in core hours.

Who’s most at risk of excessive unpaid overtime?

Managers and professionals do the most unpaid hours. However, the practice of doing some free hours has spread fairly wide, even creeping into hourly-paid retail work, where shop assistants are often asked to come in before the store open and to stay after it closes.

Public sector employees make up a quarter (25%) of total employees but produce more than a third (39%) of all unpaid overtime.

This is partly because professional roles have tended to remain in the public sector (medical staff and teachers for example) while services like cleaning have been outsourced. There is no doubt though that the public sector is under sharp financial constraints, which leads to hard-pressed staff doing more unpaid hours.

As you might expect in these turbulent economic times, chief executives do the most unpaid overtime – an average of 14.1 extra hours per week. Some other managerial jobs are in the top ten as well.

However, teachers are a close second in terms of free work, averaging 12.5 unpaid hours a week. And welfare professionals are putting in 8.6 free hours each week.

What can you do?

On Work Your Proper Hours Day, try to take a proper lunch break and leave on time. If you’re a manager, you should consider how to move away from over-reliance on unpaid overtime.

Managers have the most to gain by cutting unpaid overtime and achieving more efficient working, so talk to your colleagues about how to achieve it. If you really can’t do it today, put it in your diary for next week.

But everyone needs to be part of the conversation about excessive unpaid work. So whatever work you do, we hope you’ll take the chance to talk to colleagues about making a change.

And if you haven’t already, get together with workmates and join a union. That’s the best way to get your voice heard and stop your boss breaking the rules.

Concerned about your long hours? Try out our Unpaid Overtime Calculator to figure out how much money you’re missing out on each year

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