Half the workforce breaks legal limit on hours

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The Independent Online

Half of Britain's workforce puts in longer hours than the law permits and has been offered stress counselling, a study commissioned by the Government said yesterday.

Half of Britain's workforce puts in longer hours than the law permits and has been offered stress counselling, a study commissioned by the Government said yesterday.

Employees are more likely to be offered counselling by their bosses than a place in a crÿche or help with childcare, the Department of Education survey of attitudes to balancing work and home commitments said.

The report found that Britons routinely spent long hours at work to clear their desks, although most would like the chance to work part time or from home.

Employers have offered stress counselling to 49 per cent of staff while a much smaller proportion, 9 per cent, had been offered help with child care. More than 80 per cent of all employers admitted that their staff worked longer than standard hours because of the pressure of work. Half of workers broke the law in terms of the working time directive, which limits hours to 48 a week.

Men in stable relationships with children work the longest hours, although more men than women work from home. Almost one-quarter of men "in couple households" with dependent children worked 60 or more hours a week, and 24 per cent of men were likely to work from home.

But the report found that most employees - particularly fathers - want to work at home.

The Work Life Balance survey of 7,500 employees and 2,500 employers found that one in eight people works on Saturdays and Sundays and one in five works for companies that are open 24 hours a day.

Margaret Hodge, an Employment minister, said: "We are all working too long hours and it is making us ill. That is not good for employers and families. For decades now women have been calling for a better work-life balance to help them be the productive workers and good mothers that they want to be. Now fathers too are calling for a fairer deal."

Mrs Hodge said that she was surprised that the European Union Working Time Directive, which was introduced in Britain in 1998, had not had more impact on reducing the amount of time spent at work. She acknowledged she worked "too long hours and too relentlessly" as a minister, although she had spent time at home while her children were growing up.

The Work-Life balance survey showed that 70 per cent of women returning to work from maternity leave switched to part-time work. However, one-quarter of women take less than their statutory maternity leave of 18 weeks.

More than half of women said they would like the chance to work part time or from home after having a baby rather than take a longer maternity leave.

Women are more likely than men to take leave to care for children or relatives. Twenty-six per cent of fathers and 36 per cent of mothers have taken leave to look after a child. Fourteen per cent of fathers work more than 60 hours every week.

A study last year found that 71 per cent of managers said that the number of hours they worked had an adverse impact on their health, and 86 per cent reported it damaged their relationships with their children.

Sixty per cent of employers allow their workers to vary their hours and one in four works "flexitime".

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