From education to employment

Analysis by TUC reveals UK employees contributed £26 billion in unpaid overtime over the past year

UK employers claimed £26 billion of free labour last year because of workers doing unpaid overtime, according to a new analysis published today (Friday) by the TUC.  

  • Today is ‘Work Your Proper Hours Day’ when workers are encouraged to take their lunch break and finish on time 
  • Unpaid overtime is more common in the public sector, with teachers doing more than any other job
  • Ministers must set an example by reducing unpaid overtime in the public sector, says TUC

Today is the TUC’s 20th annual Work Your Proper Hours Day. On this day, workers are encouraged to take the breaks they are entitled to and finish their shifts on time. And managers are encouraged to support staff by setting reasonable workloads and putting in place workplace policies to protect against burnout. 

Main findings 

  • Unpaid overtime is a problem for millions of workers: 3.8 million people did unpaid overtime in 2023, putting in an average of 7.2 unpaid hours a week. For those workers, that’s equivalent on average to £7,200 a year of wages going unpaid for work done.
  • Occupations with most unpaid overtime in 2023:This year teachers top the list for both the proportion of staff doing unpaid overtime (40%) and the average weekly overtime across all employees (4.4 hours). Chief executives, managers and directors feature strongly, suggesting that the additional responsibilities of senior staff are not properly managed by employers. (See table 3 in notes) 
  • Unpaid overtime is more common in the public sector: 1 in 6 public sector workers (16.7%) did unpaid overtime in 2023, compared to 1 in 9 (11.9%) in the private sector. Public sector staff gave £11 billion worth of unpaid overtime to meet the needs of service users. That is an average of more than 10 million hours each week of unpaid overtime in our public services. 
  • Regional variation:In 2023, London had the highest proportion of workers doing unpaid overtime, at 18.8%, compared to 13.2% nationally. (See table 2 in notes)

Rules for employer recording of working hours need to be strengthened

In 2019, the European Court of Justice ruled that employers should establish an “objective, reliable and accessible system” for recording hours. 

This ruling was binding on the UK. But when the Conservative government had the opportunity to strengthen requirements on employers with the Retained EU Law Act, ministers retained the UK’s far weaker UK rules.

Employers are only required to keep “adequate” records of hours worked.

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said: 

“We’re encouraging every worker to take their lunchbreak and finish on time today. And we know that the best employers will support them doing that.

“Most workers don’t mind putting in extra hours from time to time, but they should be paid for it. 

“Part of the problem is that some employers fail torecord the overtime staff do. And when they don’t record it, they don’t pay it.

“Conservative ministers know about this problem, but they refuse to tighten the rules on employers’records. That’s not good enough. Working people deserve a government that is on their side.”

On public sector overtime, Paul added:

“We all depend on public services. But they’ve been run down by Conservative cuts and mismanagement. 

“That’s why public sector workers do so much unpaid overtime. They are going flat out to provide the services families rely on.But burnout and staff retention are big problems.

“None of us can afford to go on like this. The government must fix pay and conditions for public sector staff, instead of relying on the goodwill of workers who are burning out. That’s the only way we can rebuild our public services to the decent standard that we all need.”

Sector Response

Daniel Kebede, General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“No teacher wants to be topping the charts for unpaid overtime, but this, sadly, is the point the profession has now reached. The Government is currently benefiting from 5.5 million unpaid hours from teaching professionals alone. Of those working unpaid overtime, staff are averaging an extra 26.3 hours per week. Head teachers will undoubtedly be the worst affected. The Department for Education’s own survey from 2023 showed full-time leaders working an average 57.5hrs per week and full-time teachers 51.9hrs per week. Both are above the UK’s Working Time Regulations and extend well beyond classroom hours.

“The Department for Education has had warm words on tackling workload for many years, but a succession of education secretaries have failed to get to the heart of the problem. It is clear that high workload is now a feature of teaching, not a bug.

“The Government has shot itself in the foot by failing to tackle working hours for so long. Unmanageable workload is the main driver of teachers leaving, alongside excessive accountability. And in the context of recruitment, graduates look to teaching and the current education climate and unsurprisingly opt for other professions rather than be underpaid for excessive hours spent in buildings that are falling apart thanks to a miserly Government.

“Recent steps by the Government to abolish performance-related pay and reintroduce the list of admin and clerical tasks not to be undertaken by teachers and leaders are welcomed, but do not go far enough.  If the government is serious about raising the achievement of all pupils, then it must be serious about reducing teacher workload and improving wellbeing. This requires urgent changes to the current punitive accountability regime, a plan to reduce class sizes, increase PPA time, and a faster solution to the teacher recruitment and retention crisis.  Such sensible measures, accompanied with appropriate funding and resources, will reduce teacher workload to more manageable levels, increase morale, improve teacher professionalism and aid retention.

“The NEU will continue putting pressure on the government to take immediate action to reduce workload and we will intensify our campaign to achieve the reductions needed by our members.”

Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of NASUWT – The Teachers’ Union, said:

“The fact that teachers are losing out on average by £15,047 a year in unpaid overtime is nothing less than daylight robbery.

“The fact that teachers are at the top of the list of professions working unpaid overtime is yet further shameful evidence of the Government’s failure to invest properly in our schools and colleges.

“Teachers are seeing their workloads piled higher and higher, and with cuts to support staff and cuts to other children’s services, teachers are now working around the clock.

“Our latest research found that more than half of teachers polled worked over 50 hours a week, with some working more than 70 hours. This is unsustainable and unacceptable. World-class education cannot be built off the backs of overworked and underpaid teachers and headteachers.

“The Government’s refusal to protect teachers’ contractual working hours has helped fuel a “work ’til you drop” culture. We will not stand by whilst the Government continues to allow our members’ workloads and working hours to spiral.

“It’s time for a limit on workload and working hours, and it’s high time that the Government focuses on fixing the problems driving the teacher recruitment and retention crisis.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary at school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“Teachers and schools leaders are dedicated professionals who give so much of themselves to improving the life chances of children and young people. Increasingly, however, the line between hard work and truly crushing levels of workload has been crossed, with the government’s own research last year showing 50-60 hour working weeks are common.

“This is harming the wellbeing and mental health of dedicated professionals who have at the same time faced a decade of real-terms pay cuts, and is a key factor in fuelling the severe recruitment and retention crisis.

“It’s vital the Workload Reduction Taskforce set up by the government as part of the deal to settle last year’s dispute with education unions agrees further tangible action to ease workload and reduce working hours and that its proposals are implemented by ministers.  Immediate action to reduce workload and stress associated with a broken inspection system is an urgent priority.

“This must be supported by proper government investment to address issues like funding, SEND provision and underfunding of public services which support families – all of which contribute to heavy workload for school leaders and their staff.”

Table 1 – headline data from analysis

Number of employees working unpaid overtime               3,757,303  
% of employees working unpaid overtime 13.2% 
Total weekly hours of unpaid overtime             26,978,422  
Annual total of unpaid overtime (hours)        1,402,877,918  
Weekly average unpaid hours for workers who do unpaid overtime 7.2 
Total annual value of unpaid overtime £25,552,514,409 
Average annual loss for a worker doing unpaid overtime £7,209 

Table 2 – unpaid overtime by region

RegionAverage weekly unpaid overtime hours, of those who do them% of employees doing unpaid overtimeAnnual total lossAverage annual loss for those working unpaid overtime 
North East7.67.8%£588,183,336£6,843 
North West8.010.4%£2,469,183,740£7,711 
Yorkshire and Humberside7.211.5%£1,781,693,688£6,761 
East Midlands6.912.0%£1,579,310,900£6,406 
West Midlands6.713.7%£2,199,920,271£6,532 
East of England6.913.4%£2,493,000,010£6,878 
South East6.816.3%£4,717,699,662£7,241 
South West7.213.0%£2,097,113,351£6,955 

Table 3 – top 10 occupations for unpaid overtime

 Occupation (ONS categories)Average hours unpaid overtime per week across:Proportion doing unpaid overtimeTotal weekly unpaid overtime hours for occupationAverage annual loss for those working unpaid overtime
All employeesEmployees doing unpaid overtime
Teaching Professionals4.426.340%     5,518,727 £15,047
Chief Executives and Senior Officials4.248.738%        519,542 £28,177
Directors in Logistics, Warehousing and Transport4.040.733%          51,593 £25,446
Other Educational Professionals2.729.525%        657,970 £16,801
Health and Social Services Managers and Directors*2.625.329%        333,510 £11,851
Functional Managers and Directors2.438.529%     2,757,501 £16,705
Conservation and Environment Professionals2.119.725%        179,697 £8,740
Production Managers and Directors2.029.424%        732,353 £12,816
Managers and Proprietors in Health and Care Services*2.021.825%        142,006 £9,056
Legal Professionals1.929.128%        497,260 £10,277

* While these two occupations have similar sounding names, the composition is different. The ONS explanations of the compositions of these groups are:

Health and social services managers and directorsOccupations in this minor group are classified into the following unit groups:

1171 Health services and public health managers and directors
1172 Social services managers and directors
Managers and directors in health and social services plan, organise, direct and co-ordinate the activities and resources necessary for the efficient provision of primary and secondary health care services, social and other welfare services.
Managers and proprietors in health and care servicesOccupations in this minor group are classified into the following unit groups:

1231 Health care practice managers
1232 Residential, day and domiciliary care managers and proprietors
1233 Early education and childcare services proprietors
Job holders in this minor group manage and coordinate the work and resources of health care practices, residential and day care establishments and domiciliary care services.
  • Gender: Women and men are equally likely to work unpaid overtime, with 13.2% of workers of each gender likely to. However, women who work unpaid overtime do 0.3 hours a week fewer than men (7.0 hours for women, and 7.3 hours for men). 
  • BME workers: BME workers are less likely to work unpaid overtime than white workers (9.3% of BME workers, and 13.9% of white workers). BME workers who work unpaid overtime do slightly more than white workers (7.6 hours for BME workers, and 7.1 hours for white workers). 
  • Methodology for the analysis: This TUC analysis is based on the Labour Force Survey (LFS) 2023Q2. This is the latest available dataset at the time of publication. We usually use Q3 datasets for this analysis so have not made comparisons to previous years. This year the ONS has paused publication of the LFS and is currently reweighting its data. That means this analysis may be subject to some minor revisions.
  • Comparisons with previous years: The Labour Force Survey reweighting work being undertaken by ONS has prevented us from making comparisons with previous years. We hope to resume timeline comparisons in the future.
  • Choice of date for Work Your Proper hours Day (WYPHD): From 2004-2020 the date of Work Your Proper Hours Day was based on a calculation: we identified the day in the year when the average worker doing unpaid overtime effectively stops working for free – and WYPHD falls on the closest Friday. 

For the last few years before the pandemic, it always fell on the last Friday in February. But the impacts of the pandemic on working patterns led to greater variation in the date, with it sometimes falling in early March. Based on the data in this release it would fall on 2 March.

However, the TUC decided not to move the date into March, as there is now widespread expectation that WYPHD occurs on the final Friday of February. 

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  1. Fascinating report. Widespread differences by sector, location, seniority etc. From 8% to 18%, average 13% of workers give free overtime. Some may be addicted to work. Suggest better mangement could spread the load more widely and reduce pressure on the Few.
    Higher pay and more staff to do the total amount of work needed in some public sector roles but also more investment and higher productivity.
    Needs more depth to see if abolition of some (unnecessary / inappropriate ) activities could be eliminated.
    Model used does not take into account annual hours paid by individual / sector etc, or paid holidays or early retirement or pension levels etc that might help understand the differences and provide more balance as the tone seems to want to prove public sector worse off.

    Well worth a read.