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Few workers have reduced their hours despite new regulations

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The Working Time Regulations appear to have had little effect on reducing the working week of people who work long hours to within the Regulations’ 48-hour limit according to a report published today (Wednesday) by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). Sixty per cent of those who worked more than 48 hours a week before the Regulations took effect in October 1998 are still doing so, the CIPD found, and only 2% report that their hours have been reduced to 48 or less as a direct result of the Regulations.

The CIPD report, Working Time Regulations: have they made a difference?, is based on follow-up interviews with 486 people who originally worked more than 48 hours a week in a nationwide survey conducted in July 1998. These people have been re-interviewed two years on to find out what impact the Regulations have had on the hours they work and their views on the desirability of legislating on working hours.

Although the majority of those surveyed are still working beyond the Regulations’ limit of 48 hours, those in paid work have reduced their working hours by around six hours on average, now working 52 hours in a typical week, compared to 58 hours in July 1998. But the main reason given by respondents who are working shorter hours is that their new job doesn’t require them to work as many hours (36%) or that their workload has reduced (18%).

Relatively few who have heard of the Regulations report that their employer has asked them to sign an opt-out agreement or waiver – just 18% of those still working more than 48 hours.

Even though many of those surveyed are continuing to work long hours, nearly half of the workers who have heard of the Regulations believe that they are a “good thing” (49%), while nearly a third think they are good in some respects and bad in other respects (30%). Only 7% condemn them outright as “bad.” Thirteen per cent regard the Regulations as neither good nor bad.

The main reason given by respondents who regard the Regulations in a positive light (at least in some respects), is that they “are the only way to ensure that workers don’t have to work excessively long hours.” The most frequently cited reason for thinking the Regulations are bad is “because they have stopped staff from working the hours they want.”

The survey results suggest that some employers are taking measures to reduce the working hours of their staff. Nearly a third of employees surveyed who are still working more than 48 hours a week report that in the last 12 months their employer or line manager has reorganised work systems or made efficiency improvements that have enabled them to reduce their hours (31%).

More than a quarter has been consulted about ways to ease their workload (27% of employees still working more than 48 hours) and 23% say their employer or line manager has expressed concern that they are working too many hours. Two in five have their hours monitored (40%) and 15% have been told to go home when their employer or line manager has found them working late.

Commenting on the survey findings, the report’s author, Melissa Compton-Edwards, said: “The Regulations seem to have had very little impact in terms of reducing the working week of those who were working long hours before the legislation took effect to within the 48-hour limit. This is not entirely unexpected given that most people either actively choose to work long hours, or take the view that there is no alternative because their workload dictates it.

“It is possible that the Regulations are having a positive effect in terms of starting to change the organisational culture from one where commitment is equated with long hours to one where working smarter rather than longer is the goal.

“But action still needs to be taken to tackle heavy workloads and inefficient working practices which are often the root of the problem. There is also some way to go before output is universally viewed as being more important than face time.”

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