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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 February 2005, 16:30 GMT
Long hours can work for all
By Tim Randles
Employment lawyer, Laytons

Tim Randles
Workers have more rights than ever, Tim Randles says
In a week in which the trade union organisation TUC is calling on UK workers to shun unpaid overtime, an employment lawyer argues that both employers and employees can benefit from a willingness to work long hours.

Protection for workers - be they full time, part time or on contract - is probably better and more comprehensive than it has ever been.

The implementation of the EU's Working Time Directive alone has changed the culture in many companies, making employers think more about night workers, holidays and providing younger workers with greater protection.

For the majority now, paid holiday is a reality and some of the worst abuses of the shift system have been banished.

In addition, there are now greatly enhanced maternity and paternity rights, which include the right to request flexible hours.

It is true that some workers work longer hours than others, but what should not be forgotten is that many are happy and motivated to do so

Employers understand that there is a serious skills shortage and a dearth of experienced people in so many industries and service sectors.

In truth, it is a short sighted employer who ignores the need for a very sensible attitude to staff retention and for rewards to workers for the contributions they make.

Enjoy the challenge

Having said that, it is true that some workers work longer hours than others, but what should not be forgotten is that many are happy and motivated to do so.

It may not seem possible when the alarm clock goes off on a Monday morning, but a very significant percentage of workers look forward to coming to work.

They welcome the challenges that work presents and enjoy a sense of ownership and commitment towards their employers' goals.

Many other employers recognise that there is a need for give and take within the work place; the employer who only takes and never gives soon finds out that the employees vote with their feet.

To remain well paid, workers have to keep their businesses competitive, and very many are pleased to accept that challenge

Those industries with a "long hours" culture, such as the banks and the financial institutions, are finding that retention is now a serious problem.

Many are turning their backs on the financial sector because they no longer wish to work long hours; according to a recent survey, one out of every four people training to be a maths teacher has come from the financial services sector.

International competition

The fact is that a confrontational approach to working time is not good for business and not good for workers.

The imposition of a 35-hour working week in some countries in Europe has had serious side effects.

Businesses have found that they cannot compete in a global market if their labour costs far exceed those of their competitors.

The dreadful truth facing some German and French workers is that industries are leaving their countries precisely because they have become so obsessed with their working hours that the businesses are unable to compete.

To remain well paid, workers have to keep their businesses competitive, and very many are pleased to accept that challenge.

It is a short-sighted employer who does not takes steps to look after and reward a workforce motivated to be successful.

Ensuring that they work sensible hours is an important factor - and it's even happening in law firms.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC.


Your comments

Bravo, at last a well thought out and sensible view on attitudes to work in this country!

This makes such a refreshing break from the continuing socialist propaganda, claiming we can all just work when it suits us, and bread still costs six pence a loaf.

Both employers and employees have to realise that we are competing on a global scale, and if other countries can produce equally, or better skilled workers that are both willing and able to work longer and harder than us, then that is where the jobs will go. After all we all want cheaper goods, and are more than willing to vote with our feet, even when it is against our national interest. Britain's economy needs to untie itself from the slowest ship in the fleet (the EU), and embrace change, by allowing more workers to work flexibly, and where possible from home so as to cut down on time wasted whilst commuting. Meanwhile employers need to realise that you shouldn't work harder, just smarter.
Andrew Cowan, Blackpool, UK

Note the following job description: "The role will operate from 9am-5pm within standard flexible time, but due to the senior nature of the position we would expect commitment to work whatever additional hours are necessary to complete tasks to the company's satisfaction, including shift cover when required". This for a non-management role. This exemplifies the long hours culture prevalent in companies, and the abusive terms they think they have a right to get away with.
Name withheld, UK

Longer working hours are fine if justified. What gets me are those employees and employers who base performance on hours put in. In my previous role people actually stayed when they had nothing to do, because it was expected. MDs need to wake up base performance on output regardless how long it takes.
Henry, Dubai UAE

According to your article, teachers work an average of 11.36 hours of unpaid overtime per week, but this is offset by the fact they get 13 weeks holiday (here in Switzerland I believe it's even more). If you multiply the 11.36 hours by 52 weeks in a year that makes 590.72 extra hours. If you then divide that by 40 (for an average 40-hour working week) that means they work 14.768 weeks overtime a year. Take away the 13 weeks holiday and that means they actually get minus 1.768 weeks holiday a year!!
Rita Kitto, Geneva, Switzerland

Working long hours is less important than working effectively. It's rather daft to put in 12 hour days if most of the day is taken up with useless meetings or sifting through unimportant e-mails.

Good employers trust and motivate their employees who in return will work well and with a passion. There must always be give and take as in any relationship; but I think it's best to aim for an 8-9 hour day on average.
Richard, Brussels, Belgium

I think that a lot of workers feel that they do not deserve to have their job and so feel the need to work extra hours to make up for their own perceived shortcomings. Workers should be trained in the skills of time-management to work more efficiently - quality, not quantity!
Kevin, Cambridge, UK

I worked for a large consultancy in London. Long hours were part of the culture. The employer's attitude was interesting: I got pay rises and bonuses but not more holiday - even unpaid time off was not granted to me. I resigned to regain my "work-life" balance. Employers need to recognise that we're not all motivated by money and some of us have lives! Come on employers - be prepared to trade salary and benefits for more holiday allowance! We're not all the same.
John, Glasgow, Scotland

It really is sad to see colleagues competing to be "last man standing". The way I see it my employer gives me nothing for free so I give them nothing for free - and that includes my time !
Matt Munro, Bristol, UK

I used to give 110% to my last employer. I would think nothing of staying late. Going in at weekends and taking work home. However stupidly I assumed that the loyalty would be repaid. It was by making me redundant. I will not do the same again. I am contracted to 37.5 hours a week and that's what they get. Loyalty works both ways.
Robert, staffs

My contract specifies a 35-hour week although I usually work closer to 40. It's not a problem for me, as I usually freely choose to do the extra time. I always work on the basis that something is fair if it works both ways - my manager is very reasonable and never gives me a hard time if I need to come in late or leave early (provided reasonable notice, where possible, is given) but by the same token he expects me to come in early or leave late when the company needs it. I wouldn't get away with working 20-hour weeks for any length of time, and therefore wouldn't be willing to work 50-hour weeks.
Jonny, England

The "I'm paid for 37.5 hours a week and that's all that I'll work" attitude is the same attitude that made this country one of the most unproductive countries in Europe up until the early eighties. Getting rid of that attitude made Britain one of the most productive in the world. If we're not competitive as a country, we'll all be out of business (coal, steel etc etc) so get on with it.
Steve Milton, Twickenham, England




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