institute for employment studies
publications by IES authors
Breaking the Long Hours Culture
Kodz J, Kersley B, Strebler M T, O’Regan S
research supported by the IES Research Networks
British employees work some of the longest hours in Europe. A high proportion of UK workers work more than ten hours over and above their contracted hours. This is not an occasional effort to cope with emergencies or peak periods, but rather a regular event.
The European Community’s Working Time Directive is focusing attention on the issue of long hours. However, the fundamental business issue is not how best to circumvent the directive. Rather it is to understand the causes of long hours, note their consequences, and devise policies to ameliorate them.
National data shows that over a quarter of UK full-time employees work in excess of 48 hours per week, ie longer than the Working Time Directive weekly working hours limit (Labour Force Survey, 1997).
Perceptions about the number of hours which constitute long hours vary according to the type of work and what is considered the norm within the particular place of work. In some organisations, employees are reportedly working 100 hours per week or more. Furthermore, many employers do not know how many hours their employees are working. However, our research in general suggests that consistently working an extra ten or more hours per week over and above contracted hours, is considered to be long hours in most organisations.
Men are more likely to work longer hours than women, but this overall trend disguises differences by occupation. Women’s hours are increasing as more women are entering more senior positions. A further point highlighted by the IES research is that women with dependants are much less likely to work long hours, than men living with children or a dependent adult.
The types of sectors and occupations where long hours are a particular problem include plant and machine operatives in manufacturing, transport and communi-cation workers, managers and professionals.
Reasons for working long hours
The main reasons for working long hours identified by the research are:
Impact of long hours
Long working hours were perceived by our respond-ents to have a negative impact upon individuals, the organisations they worked for, and ultimately upon the national economy and society as a whole.
The extent to which long hours cause a problem for individuals can be influenced by the amount of control they have over their hours. For individuals, working long hours may lead to:
Working long hours may be viewed by employers as a way of getting the maximum benefit out of limited resources. However, in the longer term these effects are not sustainable. For employers the consequences of long working hours are:
Measures to reduce long hours
The EU Working Time Directive is focusing employers’ attention on the issue of long working hours. Some employers welcome the impetus this is providing to address problems which they were already concerned about it. Others are concerned about the cost of complying with the regulations. However, the WTD is not the only reason for employ-ers implementing initiatives to tackle long working hours. Employers are recognising that although it may be efficient to work long hours in the short term, it is not sustainable in the longer term.
There are few examples of instances where employers have been able to successfully tackle long working hours and long hours cultures. However, drawing on the few examples identified in the course of this research, it appears that interventions fall into two main types: those aimed at changing work patterns, and those aimed at changing company culture and individual behaviour.
Changing work patterns
Changing individual behaviour and company culture
Key aspects of successful interventions include:
This report presents findings from research supported by the IES Research Club, a group of leading edge UK employing organisations who fund new research by IES into key employment issues.
The objectives of the study were to examine the reasons for working long hours, the effect on organisations and individuals of working long working hours, introduction of initiatives to reduce working hours and the impact of these measures.
The findings are based upon in-depth case study research with 12 leading employers from a range of sectors. Within all these organisations interviews were conducted with HR managers. In eight of the employers, focus groups and one to one interviews were conducted with employees, as well as a questionnaire survey of approximately 150 respondents.
Breaking the Long Hours Culture, Kodz J, Kersley B, Strebler M T, O’Regan S. Report 352, Institute for Employment Studies, 1998.
1998 © institute for employment studies About this site