Is unpaid overtime killing UK productivity?

25 September 2018

This article was featured in the October 2018 issue of the magazine.

Andrew Weir, employer services manager at Moorepay, looks at the impact of presenteeism on productivity, and sets out solutions and some legislative points

It’s becoming a rarity for UK employees to get paid for the extra hours they work. 

Research from the Trades Union Congress uncovered that, in 2017, around five million people worked over seven hours a week with no pay, which amounts to around £31billion. This extra work is worth an average of £6,265 per worker.

Another recent study from totaljobs found that UK workers were the most likely to stay at work after hours to keep up appearances. The study found that:

  • 38 per cent of UK workers stay at work past their standard working hours.

  • 31 per cent of employers expect workers to stay later than their contracted hours.

  • IT and technology professionals are most likely to be chained to their desks to keep up appearances.

  • Younger workers are most likely to feel pressured to work overtime, with 58 per cent of 18- to 34-year-olds worrying their boss or colleagues might think they aren’t working hard enough if they leave on time.

It’s clear that presenteeism is now becoming ingrained in company culture, even though longer hours often does not lead to greater better productivity. Employers seem to agree with this: according to the study, 36 per cent of employers (and 33 per cent of employees) agree that shorter working day might increase productivity.

It’s no wonder, then, that many employers are now looking at ways to ensure their employees aren’t leaving work too late.


How does presenteeism develop?

Many companies have a culture of salaried employees working unpaid overtime. It’s mostly because workers do not feel able to leave the office because they are scared of being criticised.

Companies that put an emphasis on being ‘busy’ are most likely to succumb to presenteeism; but being busy is not an accurate indicator of how productive a company is. The problem is that the ‘hard work’ ethic naturally leads to working harder for longer. This, in turn, leads to placing a greater importance on hours spent at work, rather than what is being achieved.


Finding a solution in incentives and flexibility

Employers who evaluate their workers by meetings, emails and hours worked create a culture of visibility over productivity. But what looks like work isn’t necessarily productive – and could actually be creating more work.

Employers who give their workers the flexibility to do their best work and reward them based on their impact and value – rather than hours worked – usually see the best results in terms of productivity. They will likely have a much more focused workforce with more job satisfaction and better work life balance.


Some final legislative points on overtime

If your workers are currently working a lot of overtime, remember to ensure you give all of your employees clear guidance on what is expected with regards to their working hours. Your employment contracts should address overtime and it should be reflected in your policy.

You’ll also need to bear in mind that working late is a real issue for junior employees – there is a risk of them falling below the minimum wage, and this is a criminal offence. Always keep adequate records to demonstrate that you pay the minimum wage as proof.

In addition, remember that UK workers can’t work more than an average of 48 hours a week without signing an opt out. Workers are entitled to a rest break of twenty minutes, if they work more than six hours in a day. This can be unpaid, but must be specified in their contract.