Long-hours culture hitting productivity

Industrial epidemic: The growing pressure on office staff is damaging performance at work as well as their family life, says report
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Britain is facing a new industrial epidemic. Office staff are working longer hours, but productivity is falling.

Family life is also under threat from increased stress at work, with women coming off worse. Nearly three times as many women as men in white- collar work are divorced or separated.

In a new report, The Family Friendly Workplace, Britain's increasing "long-hours culture" is also shown to be seriously affecting employees' health and their standard of work.

The survey of more than 1,350 white-collar employees, published by the recruitment and communications organisation, Austin Knight, indicates that long hours are becoming the norm for British workers. Two-thirds worked 40 hours or more per week and a quarter worked 50 hours or more.

Men work longer hours than women, with 81 per cent of men saying they worked 40 hours or more compared with 56 per cent of women. More than one-third of men worked 50 hours or more compared with 13 per cent of women.

More than half of all white-collar workers felt that "long-hours culture" was a firm feature of their workplace, while many said they felt under pressure from bosses to work longer hours than contracted.

Anne Riley, UK chief executive of Austin Knight, said the findings gave the lie to the idea of the "leisure generation" - workers who would "telework" from home using computers and spend more time with their families. "People are working in leaner organisations and the recession has made employers and employees quite nervous. There is a lot more job insecurity and workers need to be seen to be doing whatever hours are necessary."

Far from sitting back and driving their employees ever harder, those in management worked the longest hours of all. Among senior staff, 45 per cent of men worked 50 hours or more.

Instead of resulting in better productivity, the "epidemic" is costing British industry millions as employees are physically affected and take sick leave. More than three-quarters said that continually working long hours affected them physically. Latest figures from the Confederation of British Industry show that, on average, almost eight working days per worker were lost due to sick leave in 1994. Public sector workers lose almost 10 days a year on average, compared to almost seven days in manufacturing.

It is not just employees' health that suffers. More than half of all white-collar workers said their personal life was damaged by long hours.

Women felt their partners were less likely to understand the need for them to stay late. They were also more inclined to believe that it was impossible to combine both a successful career and family life.

More men than women considered that their work performance suffered as their hours grew longer. Half of all men, compared with 42 per cent of women took this view.

Surprisingly, employers also believe performance is hit by long hours. About 90 per cent described the "long-hours culture" as a problem, because of reduced performance and lowered morale. "I think that's one of the most encouraging things to come out of the survey," said Ms Riley.

"They're not just being altruistic about the whole thing. Employers should have more flexible policies to enable employees to work at their best. It doesn't mean that they will be working less hard."

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