February 24: Work Your Proper Hours Day

Feb 24 is Work Your Proper Hours Day. This date is when the average worker in the UK who does unpaid overtime finishes the unpaid days they do every year and starts working for themselves. 

It is estimated that over 5 million people did unpaid overtime in 2011. And with an average of 7.2 hours of unpaid overtime, the TUC estimate this is worth £29.2 billion to the UK economy. In Scotland, the number of people who do unpaid overtime has increased by 5% from 2010 to 417,000 people in 2011.

The TUC have calculated that the highest number of workers working unpaid overtime are concentrated in the public sector, where 27.8% of all employees work unpaid overtime compared to 18.6% of private sector employees. In Scotland, two-thirds of public sector workers are women and as job cuts and pay freezes continue in the public sector, it is likely that more and more women will be expected to do more for less.

The proportion of employees in their late 50s and early 60s working unpaid overtime has increased sharply in the last decade, but those aged 35-54 are still working the most hours of unpaid overtime. This is perhaps is not surprising as the majority of the workforce will fall into that age category and it coincides with the pivotal point for many individuals progressing their careers.

The TUC argue this is equivalent to approximately 1 million full-time equivalent jobs, but acknowledge that the presenteeism culture of many workplaces in the UK is part of the problem, rather than the unpaid overtime translating directly into jobs.

Presenteeism has a profound effect on women’s participation in the labour market. Workplace culture can be a barrier to women’s retention and progression within the workplace. The need to be seen to be putting in the extra hours do not fit with the family-friendly working practices many women (and men) need. This is particularly acute when we consider that the age profile of highest level of unpaid overtime coincides with the point at which many women may be thinking of starting a family, returning to work after a career/maternity break and/or are looking for a promotion that fits round their caring responsibilities.   

Presenteeism in the workplace limits the choices for those who have caring responsibilities, the vast majority of whom are women. As a result women are forced to look for part-time work, often in lower valued and low paid positions or leave the labour market as they cannot afford to work due to the high costs of childcare. As women’s unemployment continues to rise there is an even greater case to ensure that the barriers to women’s participation in the workplace are addressed.

Long hours are bad for our health; cause stress; they wreck relationships; they make caring for children or dependents more difficult; and tired, burnt-out workers are bad for business and economic growth.

Work Your Proper Hours Day website has a long-hours clinic and calculator to check and map your workplace culture.

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