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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 4 September, 2002, 09:29 GMT 10:29 UK
Are you working too many hours?
British workers dream about working shorter hours over winning the lottery, according to the government's Work-Life Balance survey.

Twice as many women now put in over 60 hours a week as in the year 2000, research by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Management Today magazine has found.

Young people are labouring the hardest, with most of the 60 hour-week workers being in their 30s.

Full-time retail employees clock up more hours than any other sector workers.

Overtime is an especially bad deal, with only a third of workers awarded extra pay or time off in lieu for it and Londoners doing an average of 12 extra hours every week.

Why do the British work such long hours? Are you overdoing it? How can we find a happy balance between our professions and our personal lives?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction

The expectation that UK employees work excessive non-contractual unpaid hours is one of the typical failures of British management (adopted in part from US practices). The lack of respect and loyalty thus demonstrated to employees has a downside which shows in reduced productivity and reduced flexibility. If employees are working excessive hours, the company shareholders should be checking to see whether the company management team is really making effective long term use of the company's most valuable asset - the people.
Andy Bishop, UK


The problem in this country is that we have too many accountants

John Hanley, UK
I recently went on a self-catering holiday to France and called at a supermarket and found that it had closed for lunch-for two hours! in fact everyone had gone home for lunch. It's a system that works. The employees are all well motivated etc., and the employers get much more productivity from their workforce without the need for extra hours. The problem in this country is that we have too many accountants. We have ten/twenty times the number they have on the continent and suffer as a result - if you've got a piece of equipment/place of work, it must be in production 24/7. This is rubbish, it's not how long you work it's what you do that counts, remember work expands to fill time allocated.
John Hanley, UK

Brits work long hours and our economy is doing OK. The Europeans work much shorter hours, but their economies are in recession and their unemployment rate is double hours. Anyone notice a pattern here?
Guy Hammond, England

This long hour culture is totally counter productive. Recent stats show that both Germany and France where "workers" are treated with respect and not just like slaves are far more productive than here in sweatshop UK. But then again it's in the authorities' interest not to give us time to think.
Andrew Watson, England

Society is to blame with the majority of people wanting better cars, better houses, holidays abroad and to spend, spend, spend rather than living sensibly within their means. They resort to overtime to get what they want and end up with ill health due to stress and exhaustion.
Steve, UK

You can work your butt off in the servitude of your company. You can sweat, slave and sacrifice everything to show "loyalty" to your company. And what happens? The first sign of an economic downturn and a dip in profits and the company will return that loyalty by dumping you. Don't do it. Just say NO!
Tony, London, UK

It so typically British to moan on about long hours but still carry on working them. You have the power to say "I'm going home now" or get another job. Stop complaining and do something about it!
Dan, UK

Having worked my way up to a senior position within a large American Corporation, I felt it "part of the job" to consistently work 50+ hours every week. Despite all my efforts and 13 years service, I (along with many others) was made redundant with not so much as a thank-you. You live and learn, and I now put my family first.
Nigel, England

I find this whole long hours culture really puzzling. Who does it benefit? Certainly not those working long hours. And as an employer, I would far rather have happy, healthy, and therefore productive staff working 35 hours a week than stressed staff sitting at their desks (although not necessarily working) for 60 hours.
Adam, UK

How can we find a happy balance between our professions and our personal lives? The answer is to stop being so greedy.
Fiona, Wales

I recently left my employment of over 27 years partly due to the stress of the continuous extra workload being suddenly heaped on me due to colleagues taking release for much the same reason. Although we were expected to work an average of 36 hours (not including breaks) in actual practice to keep ahead I found myself having to work nearer 50 hours without remuneration of any kind.
Hazel, UK


I was so stressed and overworked last year that I contracted Meningitis

Elliott, UK
I was so stressed and overworked last year that I contracted Meningitis as a direct result of being so run down. It was a relief to be made redundant! There is something wrong with British working society that deems anyone to be ill or needing time off to be inferior. That's why nobody wants to be the first to go to lunch if they go to lunch at all, let alone take time off work for rest and recuperation.
Elliott, UK

After living and working in the US from 1990 to 2001 it's a real pleasure to come back to the UK for a rest.
Brian, UK

If the government really want British workers to find a balance, how about reducing the amount of tax and VAT we have to pay on everything? We do not work extra hours for the love of it, we do it because we need to eat and pay for our housing. The average wage is not enough to live on anymore.
Rich, UK


Let's have another go at the three day week!

Mark Jason, UK
The survey is spot on. This trend has increased massively in the last two years. Employers seem to show disdain at workers who have the audacity to merely work their contracted hours. Without overtime, we're working for apparently nothing. It leaves little time or energy for a social life. There must be more to life. Let's have another go at the three day week!
Mark Jason, UK

Most of the blame should be placed on the employers, as pay-rates outside of London don't reflect house prices/rent and the general cost of living. The employee often has no other choice (especially with the amount of temporary jobs out there) but to work more hours.
Simon, UK

I originally come from Hungary but lived all my adult life in England. I was shocked to see what people do at work once I started to work in the City of London. Everyone feels under pressure to go in to work earlier than the boss and go home later than the boss so that they appear hard-working. Taking lunch away from your desk is unheard of! But they are not at all working hard or are productive. We should take a look at Europe - work hard and effectively all day and go home on time! Have a life and don't feel bad for doing so!
Marianne, UK


Other countries have less material gain and close-knit family

Mark Dickinson, Nottingham, England
The main problem in this country is the culture of 'got to have it all'. Other countries are prepared to have a little less material gain and have a much superior quality of life with a close-knit family. Is it any wonder that we are producing a succession of kids who think that materialism/consumerism is the only thing that matters?
Mark Dickinson, Nottingham, England

People work such long hours to impress; often people will just stay at work doing nothing to make people see that they are working hard. The nation needs to change its attitude towards work, you can achieve just as much in a few hours hard work as you can working at a leisurely pace throughout the whole day.
Will, UK

I'm pretty sure that those saying they work 60 hour plus weeks are not being entirely truthful. It is probably that they "SOMETIMES" work 60 hour weeks, just as school students (and teachers) SOMETIMES spend a long time doing/marking coursework etc. The truth is that most people who work these long hours are doing it for their own benefit to get extra pay, get noticed by management, get away from the wife! Its quite easy to say no to overtime when you don't want it/cant do it. A bit of flexibility by both sides will sort things out. Businesses aren¿t hideous greedy monsters (no more than you are anyway) and your manager has been in the same position. Just say no sometimes and work more intelligently.. not just more.
David Phillips, UK

Finding a balance is always a nice concept, but social attitudes tip the balance further and further towards the workplace. We are living in a faster and faster moving society and Britain is becoming a more productive country because of the hard work being done. Today's society is less and less family oriented and revolves more and more around the workplace so it is hardly a surprise that we spend more time in it.
Richard Frizoni, UK


Everyone else toes the line

John B, UK
While it is arguably a bit churlish to religiously leave at bang on 5:00 it is also unreasonable to expect people to sacrifice their entire lives for the sake of the company. People are afraid to stand up for themselves and refuse to be treated badly because they fear losing their job if everyone else toes the line. I think we as a nation are also conditioned to define ourselves more in terms of what we do rather than who we are.
John B, UK

Let's not forget that by working longer hours we are reducing our employers' overheads. This makes UK companies more competitive in an increasingly difficult European market.
David, UK

David, thanks for your enlightening observation that were cutting down our employer's overheads by working longer hours. I'll do it more in the future as his Jag is at least three years old now and could do with an upgrade to enable it to put my humble Renault in it's place.
Greg Brown, UK

Performance drops off radically after not much more than the 35-40 hour week specified in many employment contracts. There have even been test cases where employees worked only 30-hour weeks. Staff morale and concentration levels rocketed, as did productivity. But alas, most managers continue to place their own superficial understanding ahead of doing their homework, and their groups suffer as a result.
Chris, UK

Britons work longer hours and have less holiday than most other European countries. We need to take action now, or we will become the sweatshop of Europe.
Charlie, UK

Most UK companies seem to be blind to the relationship between morale and productivity. Couple this with a management attitude that says your time is the company's unless they decide otherwise and you have the perfect recipe for stressed-out, overworked employees.
Richard P, UK


I'm currently reading the BBC website. It's 5.15 on Friday afternoon.

Jim Taylor UK
Sitting at your desk doesn't mean you're working. I'm currently reading the BBC website. It's 5.15 on Friday afternoon. Frankly I should go home. Have a nice weekend everyone.
Jim Taylor, UK

We work long hours, and then work overtime in the belief that we will gain some financial gain for ourselves, and a productivity gain for our employers. Neither are true, we just get taxed more and the extra work is rarely even noticed.
Paul, UK

There is an increasing feeling of uncertainty in employees long term job status, hence the pressure to work extra "just in case". This produces the downward cycle of increasing hours, fear of job loss/lack of promotion, and the feeling of being unable to control one's life events. Hence the increase presentation to GP's with stress. Unless the perception is changed, the problem will continue.
Philip, UK

The thing people overlook is how really bad the 'time at work' looks when you factor in the hours spent commuting. Slow, delayed and overcrowded trains and a road system where the council's so-called planners deliberately miss-time traffic lights to create additional delays! Once you add it all up - well, no wonder people dream of downshifting and breeding organic haggis in the Highlands.
Calum Steen, UK

My experience in the workplace (and I'm sure I'm not alone) is one of quantity over quality. This keeps morale and interest low among the workforce, and profits low for the company.. but big numbers "look good", so management go for it. And it all starts with education, where "numbers studying X" are more important than "quality of X's courses". I've never understood why an employer sees its role as buying a number of hours of your time rather than paying for a particular task to be completed.
Hannah G, United Kingdom

Most foreign people I've spoken to who've lived in England for a while say it's a complete myth that England has a better quality of life. Britain is (and always has been) about satisfying the needs of business above everything else.
Al, UK

Surely these working hour statistics are being distorted by people using the old trick of buying two jackets with their suit and leaving one hung on the back of the chair? Then one can slip home, leaving colleagues to presume that you're busy at a meeting or similar elsewhere in the building...
Calum Steen, UK

We ARE the sweatshop of Europe.
BARBARA, UK

Bleat, bleat, moan, moan! There's money out there. You want it? ?Earn it! If you don't, go home. For a tiny lucky minority, you are born with it or get it handed to you. For the rest of us, your fate is in your own hands. If that's tough, so is life.
Andrew Carter, UK

To Andrew Carter, not everybody wants to be the next Donald Trump,some people work to live and not the other way round. I thought your sort went out of fashion in the eighties!
Anon, uk

 VOTE RESULTS
How many hours a week do you work?

30+
 30.92% 

40+
 39.15% 

50+
 17.19% 

60+
 12.74% 

3037 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

See also:

29 Aug 02 | Business
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