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  • NEW polling reveals 1 in 2 workers feel that work is getting more intense and demanding

“Gruelling” work intensity is a growing problem in “burnt out Britain”, with workers reporting that they are working harder and longer now compared to previous years, the TUC has today (insert day) warned.

The TUC says increasing work intensity means workers are having to pack more work into working hours – with work often spilling over into their private lives.

The warning comes as the union body releases new polling, conducted by Thinks Insight (formerly Britain Thinks) which reveals:

  • More than 1 in 2 (55%) workers feel that work is getting more intense and demanding.
  • And 3 in 5 (61%) workers say they feel exhausted at the end of most working days.

The polling also reveals workers feel the situation is getting worse. Compared to the previous year (2021):

  • More than a third of workers (36%) are spending more time outside of contracted hours reading, sending and answering emails.
  • 1 in 3 (32%) are spending more time outside of contracted hours doing core work activities.
  • 4 in 10 (40%) say they have been required do more work in the same amount of time
  • 4 in 10 (38%) say they are feeling more stressed at work

The TUC says women face greater work intensity than men.

The polling shows that compared to men, women are more likely to say they feel exhausted at the end of most working days (67% to 56%) and that work is getting more intense (58% to 53%).

Women are overrepresented in sectors such as education and health and social care. These are sectors where staff shortages and other factors, such as burdensome scrutiny and long working hours, have led to increased work intensification.

And women continue to shoulder most of the caring responsibilities at home, which can further add to time-pressures on them.

Burnt-out Britain

Recent TUC analysis revealed UK employers claimed £26 billion of free labour last year because of workers doing unpaid overtime.

3.5 million people did unpaid overtime in 2022, putting in an average of 7.4 unpaid hours a week.

As well as being detrimental to family life, long term-ill health conditions caused by overwork include hypertension and cardiovascular disease, digestive problems, and long-term effects on the immune system, increasing risk of causing autoimmune disease diagnoses.

When workers are tired, or under excessive pressure, they are also more likely to suffer injury, or be involved in an accident.

Perfect storm

The TUC says there are several factors are combining to create a “perfect storm” for work intensity. This includes:

  • Surveillance technology and algorithmic management: Algorithmically set productivity targets can be unrealistic and unsustainable – forcing people to work at high speed. Algorithmic management can also force workers to work faster through constant monitoring, including monitoring the actions they perform and their productivity.
  • Staff shortages:  Low pay, excessive workloads and a lack of good flexible work are key drivers of the staffing crisis. Staff shortages put huge strain on those who remain as they try to plug the gaps, fuelling excessive workloads and long-working hours. This undermines the quality of our public services, and leads to high attrition and absenteeism rates, worsening the workload crisis. 
  • Inadequate enforcement of working time regulations: The working time regulations contain important rights for workers which could help safeguard against work intensification and the consequential health and safety risks, but enforcement of these rights is inadequate. This is in part down to lack of resources for enforcement agencies. The Health and Safety Executive, which is responsible for enforcement of the maximum weekly working time limits, night work limits and health assessments for night work, has had its budget slashed in half over the past decade.
  • Decline in collective bargaining: Industrial changes have combined with anti-union legislation to make it much harder for people to come together in trade unions to speak up together at work. This decline in collective bargaining coverage has led to less union negotiation around work organisation, resulting in work intensification.

Ministers are currently looking to water down rules on how working time is recorded by employers in the UK, which they could impose using powers in the controversial REUL (Retained EU Law) Act.

This could significantly weaken our already-inadequate enforcement system even further, making it more difficult for labour market inspectors to prove non-compliance.

Action needed

The TUC says ministers must take urgent action to tackle burnt out Britain, including:

  • Introduce a new right to disconnect to ensure workers get a proper rest break away from work and make sure that work doesn’t encroach upon a worker’s home life.
  • Strengthen enforcement of working time regulations – that means funding the HSE properly and ditching proposed changes to how working time is recorded.
  • Fix the public sector recruitment and retention crisis, bringing down excessive workloads and dangerously unsafe staffing levels, delivering year-on-year fully-funded pay rises and making improvements to working conditions.
  • Make flexible working a genuine legal right from the first day in a job. People should have the right to work flexibly from day one, unless the employer can properly justify why this is not possible. Workers should have the right to appeal any rejections. And there shouldn’t be a limit on how many times you can ask for flexible working arrangements in a year.
  • Promote collective bargaining to make it easier for unions to speak with and represent workers – including broadening the scope of collective bargaining rights to include work organisation, the introduction of new technologies, and the nature and level of staffing
  • Introduce to statutory duty to consult trade unions before an employer introduces the use of artificial intelligence and automated decision-making systems. This would ensure that both the employer and worker can benefit from the introduction of new technologies and that productivity gains lead to decent pay rises for workers.

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said: 

“No one should be pushed to the brink because of their job.

“Gruelling hours, pace and expectations at work are growing problems up and down the country. This is a recipe for burnt out Britain.

“Chronic staff shortages, intrusive surveillance tech and poor enforcement of workers’ rights have all combined to create a perfect storm.

“It’s little wonder that so many feel exhausted at the end of their working day.

“It’s time to tackle ever-increasing work-intensity. That means strengthening enforcement so that workers can effectively exercise their rights.

“It means introducing a right to disconnect to let workers properly switch off outside of working hours.

“And it means making sure workers and unions are properly consulted on the use of AI and surveillance tech, and ensuring they are protected from punishing ways of working.”

On public sector overtime and the recruitment crisis, Paul added:

“Public sector workers can’t keep going on gratitude alone. Staff are getting burnt out and leaving public services in droves.

“It’s time ministers got serious about fixing the recruitment crisis blighting our NHS, our schools and our public services.”


Editors note

Notes to editors:

-Report: The TUC report on work intensity can be found here

-Polling: Thinks Insight & Strategy conducted an online survey of 2,198 workers in England and Wales, between 3rd and 11th August 2022. The sample was nationally representative of those in work by gender, age, ethnicity, income from work, region and working status (i.e. whether someone is in full-time or part-time work).

- About the TUC: The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together the 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.


TUC press office  
020 7467 1248 

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