No Image Available

Proper hours? HR professionals discuss unpaid overtime. By Sarah Fletcher


Sarah Fletcher asked senior HR professionals their views on the TUC’s recent research claiming that five million workers in the UK work unpaid and uncompensated overtime.

The TUC encouraged employees to challenge the UK’s “long hours” culture by working only their contractually designated hours on Friday 24 Feb as part of their “Work Your Proper Hours Day” programme.

We asked HR professionals from both public and private organisations if there is such a thing as a “proper” working day, and whether it is practical to expect a nine to five routine in senior or responsible positions.

Our members consider whether extra hours are necessary to build a successful career, and if overtime it exposes low productivity and poor people management in UK organisations.

alarm clock
Are extra hours simply part of the job?
HR professionals surveyed agreed that the working day is as long as the job requires, although where possible this should be specified in the contract and paid for accordingly.

Our members expressed some anxiety over the potential consequences for career progression if the employee refused to work overtime. They suggested that this could be perceived as showing poor commitment to the client.

  • ”Yes, whatever is needed should be done. But if that is extra hours every day, every week, that is bad management: either under resourced or people not working hard enough,” Stephen Walker, HR Director, Motivation Matters.
  • “Yes, some jobs require extra hours. But it should be written in the contract and paid for,” Rob Roy, HR Consultant, Pearson Ltd.
  • “Quality is more important than quantity. It should be about output rather than hours spent at work. Ideally we should be aiming for condensed hours,” Karen Moran.
  • ”Proper working hours should be whatever it takes to get the job done,” Sue Schoormans, Managing Director, Complete People Management.

Is it practical to expect to work nine to five?
Our HR professionals overwhelmingly stressed that overtime is essential to maintain a responsible job and a 24 hour society which demands services outside of “traditional” office hours.

  • “Not in a job with any responsibility,” Andrew Peters, HR Consultant, Logica CMG.
  • “No. If people did that the country’s economy would be in chaos,” Graham Frankel, HR Specialist, Genesis HR.
  • “A better work / life balance will come at a cost, and society as a whole will need to decide what it will pay for this. Certainly, larger organisations may need to consider ways that re-engage with the communities that they operate within, and consider the obligations they have to society,” Elspeth Wyatt, Director, Calibre HR and Training Ltd.
  • “In today’s working environment, the amount of business you would miss out on would be huge by working limited hours.” Nick Harrington, HR Consultant, Fletcher Flemming.

Why do we have a “long hours” culture?
The emphasis here was firmly on strategy. According to our members, poor management of human capital creates an inefficient workforce – indeed, the UK’s poor productivity record has been reported by HR Zone and TrainingZONE in past months, and this is still a major concern.

Unrealistic workloads, a culture which pressurises employees into working the hours their boss puts in and bad time management also seem to contribute.

  • “For me the question is more about what it is we want from employees – do we want time or performance? If it is time, then for me this is an incidental question as it still allows employers to treat their staff more as commodities – not really valuing their potential and their unique contributions. The result will inevitably be more rules, less trust and a disengaged workforce. My vote is for the focus to be on rewarding individuals for their performance, not their time,” Chris O’Brien, HR Consultant, Clear Solutions.
  • “There is a difference between being at work and “working” effectively,” Stephen Walker, HR Director.
  • “Have the TUC done any research on how much supposed “work time” is wasted in non-productive activities?” Graham Frankel, HR Specialist.
  • “In most cases if time was well spent, working hours would probably be less than the employee contractual hours of work. However, the reality is that there is a lot of wasted time due to excessive meetings, travel time and internet use, and this results in working time being more than the contractual hours. Additionally there is still a culture of the boss working longer hours and thus the employees feel they need to do the same, or there is pressure to do so,” Sue Schoormans, Managing Director.
  • “It’s tough to strike a balance but most sensible managers will want their people to be happy rather than exhausted and guilty, so everyone wins. I work three days a week in London and two days from home. I’m happy to put in long days in London because I know I have two days that I can take the kids to school and start my evening off early,” Karen Moran, Head of HR, Eversheds

What are the consequences of the UK’s “long hours” culture?
The main concern focused upon work/life balance, and the impact upon health and morale – as one Director commented, working an 80 hour week had a negative effect upon her wellbeing, and such “excessive” days were unsustainable. Worryingly, S Watson suggested that there is “no time to think” – surely a problem for productivity!

However, this was not universally agreed – certain members felt that long working days helped to build teamwork and a “punchy” atmosphere. The issue of personal choice was prominent – the individual must decide their own goals, and whether this requires being in the office longer than contractually agreed.

  • “There is a greater appreciation of work / life balance these days – that is good. But there is also a lot of nonsense spread by people who like to pretend they are working harder than is really the case,” Graham Frankel, HR Specialist.
  • “Good team bond all round: can be very punchy, aggressive atmosphere which can be seen as a good or bad thing depending on the individual – personally I like it. Work has had a huge impact on life balance but it is a sacrifice that one has to be prepared to pay to progress in one’s career,” Nick Harrington, HR Consultant.
  • “Extra working hours have, to an extent, cut down on the camaraderie that might have existed in the past – there is less time for the social outing, the drink after work or the social lunch with colleagues. Longer commutes have also affected this, and work pressures and families in which both parents work have made work/life balance difficult to maintain. Legislation that seems to offer flexibility to one group (for example, parents of small children) has produced some reactions with other groups of workers. Requests to work flexibly for a range of reasons should be considered – a more flexible workforce can more often cover for each other when necessary,” Elspeth Wyatt, Director.
  • “In some ways, working extra hours can bring people at work together as a team, to get the job done so they can go home! But there is no doubt that for many, in my opinion, work/life balance continues to be something of a dream,” Emma Baker.
  • “Society has lost out on the social aspect of work,” S Watson, Director, Reward Works.

  • “Extra hours on a regular basis make people tired and inefficient. It shows up as stress and people might have to take big or more holiday breaks to maintain a healthy life,” Rob Roy, HR Consultant.
  • “Working extra hours does affect the culture of a company. I worked for a Chief Executive who worked very long hours and pressurised others if they did not do so. The whole company felt pressured to do the same and the culture changed to aggression, high labour turnover and resentment. People had little time at home and this had a negative effect on their personal lives in a number of cases,” Pam Allott.

  • Related features:

    What do you think are the main issues in this debate? Would you expect to work overtime to develop your career? Post your comments below.

2 Responses

  1. Extra Hours
    Agree wholeheartedly with Mr Young. It seems somewhat of a mystery to me that after all the years of supposedly top ranking research and teaching, we have this issue to deal with now. Given that a lot of the unhappiness uncovered comes from organisations where top management will either have been through some form of high level education and/or been on ‘management’ seminars etc, one wonders where on earth we begin to address the problem……..or is it a problem when such people continue the behaviour? Maybe they don’t have families or friends!!!!! While this cannot be the only cause it certainly ranks right at the top of the list. So all you educators commentators consultants and management gurus, listen to what is happening.


    Don Rhodes.

  2. Mind over matter
    I once was told about long hours if you can’t do the job in the time allocated you are either wrong for the job or the job is too big for you. At the end of the day the work will still be there in the morning.

    I think it’s time that MBA’s course, colleges, IOD etc started teaching that long hours does not equals a successful company.

    We there are times those extra hours may be needed but this should not be daily.

    In one company I did a locum contract for none of the staff in HR would go home before the HR Director as they were afraid that they would be seen as none performers. This was bullying.

    It’s all a case of mind of matter. I don’t mind and only my family matter.

No Image Available

Get the latest from HRZone

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.