Analysis undertaken by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has revealed that, on average, a full-time employee in the UK worked for 42 hours each week in 2018. When comparing this to other workers across the EU, the findings report that a UK worker is completing nearly two hours more than the EU’s average worker. When looking at working hours across a whole year, this equates to nearly 2.5 weeks of extra work each year for an average UK worker.
Although the working week is longer, the UK’s productivity rate is lower than other EU countries where fewer hours are worked. For example, the working week in Germany is 1.8 hours shorter each week but full-time employees are 14.6 per cent more productive than UK workers. The TUC have stated that “Britain’s long hours culture is nothing to be proud of” and has commented that this is resulting in overwork, stress and exhaustion whilst preventing employees from spending time with their family. They are calling for reduced working hours to help workers and increase productivity.
Workers in the UK are protected from working overly long hours under the Working Time Regulations 1998. The Regulations introduce a maximum 48 hour working week, whilst also providing legal minimum rest breaks and rest periods between working hours. Employers who require their staff to work more than 48 hours, on average, each week can ask workers to opt-out of this maximum by signing an opt-out agreement. Alternatively, a collective or workforce agreement may be in place which amends the application of the Working Time Regulations for relevant employees.
Where long working hours are in place, employers need to ensure their workers are remaining productive, and are not being adversely impacted by feelings of overwork or stress. Simple changes such as introducing targets, setting deadlines and organising tasks in order of priority or time to complete can help increase productivity by making it clearer to staff what they are working towards and how to do this. Encouraging regular breaks and rest between working hours, especially time away from emails or work-related messages, will help employees recover and feel refreshed on their return to work.
The findings by the TUC have increased calls for a four day working week to be utilised. Whilst this can work for some businesses, it may not be appropriate for all and organisations can examine whether reduced working days can be introduced. Other methods, such as increasing flexibility or introducing flexi-time, can help employees structure their working life around their personal commitments, helping to create more engaged and loyal employees.