Britons work longer hours than anyone else in Europe

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Britons work longer than any other nation in the European Union, an average of 42.5 hours a week, according to figures released in advance of a national "Work Your Proper Hours Day" tomorrow.

Employees in the Netherlands work the least - nearly four hours fewer than we do. Even "accession" countries to the EU, such as Estonia and Slovenia, spend less time at work.

Among the full members of the EU. Britons are also among the least productive. We produce 40 per cent less each hour than employees in Luxembourg.

A culture of "presenteeism" has also led many British workers to forego their holidays. According to union calculations, British companies have built up a massive "holiday debt" owed to employees. Some £14.5bn worth of unclaimed holidays are lost every year, with one in three workers failing to take their entitlement, according to research conducted by workplace consultants Croner.

Estimates also show that in 2005 nearly five million employees worked an average extra day a week in unpaid overtime.

Analysis of official figures by the TUC found that Londoners put in the longest hours, with those doing unpaid overtime working an extra eight hours, 12 minutes a week. Employees in Wales were second in the league with seven hours 48 minutes and those in Northern Ireland worked seven hours 36 minutes.

Brendan Barber, the TUC general secretary, said the Proper Hours day would be a means of drawing attention to the fact that Britonsregularly worked longer hours than their European counterparts. "We don't want to turn into a nation of clock watchers," he said: "Most people don't mind putting in extra effort when there's a rush or an emergency, but that easily turns into the long-hours culture. In smart workplaces, people work fewer hours."

Long hours take their toll. Will Hutton, the chief executive at the Work Foundation, points to research in Europe and the US showing a massive increase in work-related depression. However, this is not universally recognised by employers. Ruth Lea, of the Centre for Policy studies, said: "Stress is the new bad back. Stress is now so trendy and people are now so aware of it that people use it all the time as an excuse for a sickie."

Mr Hutton argues that cases of depression began to rise in the mid 1980s, when the flexible labour market began to take hold.

Many employees work for managers who indulge in a lifestyle characterised as "binge-working". Roffey Park, a research organisation, found that 85 per cent of 1,000 managers questioned claimed to work consistently longer than their contracted working week.

About 24 per cent of men said they worked an additional 15 hours a week. Research shows that employees stay at work longer than purely necessary in an attempt to persuade managers that they share their obsession. In preparation for Proper Hours day, the TUC has set up a special section on its website for those of a subversive turn of mind who want to send their managers a "bossagram".

Employees are asked to supply their manager's e-mail address and he or she will be sent anonymous an e-mail tomorrow morning, urging them to allow their staff to work their basic hours and no more and suggesting employees are taken for a drink after work.

Anne Parsons: 'As the manager, I put in more than most'

Anne Parsons (not her real surname), is a senior marketing and fundraising manager for a medical research and patient care charity in London. Her contracted working week is 35 hours, but she says it is rare for her to work her proper hours.

Most weeks she does between one and five hours of unpaid overtime, but at critical times in her fundraising calendar she can work up to 60 hours a week.

Ms Parsons has often been in the office until 10pm, and on one occasion it was 3am before she left. "When we have to, we put in the hours. We are judged on results and are responsible for most of the organisation's income. My team work long hours but as the manager I tend to put in more than most."

The pressure to hit her targets is constant. "The team puts in the hours to make sure all our fundraising campaigns happen, regardless of what else is happening," she says.

Ms Parsons said she often thought about moving jobs, but is torn between leaving and staying because she enjoys and believes in the work. She says working long hours is common in the charity sector.

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