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UK employees working £4.2 billion in free labour every week

Jeff Phipps, Managing Director, ADP UK

Unpaid overtime soars since advent of COVID-19: Essential workers putting in nearly 9 unpaid hours per week 

The amount of unpaid overtime that workers around the world are doing has soared in the past year; unpaid overtime in the UK has steadily risen from 6 hours in 2019 to 7 hours in 2020 in the advent of COVID-19, to a whopping almost 8 hours in 2021, reveals a new study by the ADP® Research Institute, “People at Work 2021: A Global Workforce View“.

UK employees are currently working an average of 7.8 hours per week without pay, almost a full hour more than the European average of 6.7. Totalling over £8,000 annually per employee, and across the working population, £219bn a year in free labour. Activity can range from working over breaks and starting early/staying late to regularly putting in several hours of extra work each day for no additional pay.

One in four (26%) UK employees are giving away more than 10 hours per week for free to their employers – up from one in five before the pandemic in 2019. Given the demanding nature of their jobs, essential workers put in more unpaid overtime than non-essential workers – at 8.9 hours per week on average, compared to 6.9 hours.

Interestingly, this number rises exponentially in the younger age bracket, with 18-24-year-olds working an average of 9.35 hours unpaid. Perhaps the most shocking figures are reported by those in the Media/Information industries, who reported an average of 13.5 hours per week unpaid.

WFH vs. on-site – or a mixture of both?

The effects of remote and hybrid working on productivity and unpaid overtime cannot be ignored, and as more and more businesses chart a path for returning to offices in some form. Those working from home (WFH) estimate they are putting in more unpaid overtime than those based in the workplace or on-site, at 8.1 hours per week on average, compared to 7.1 hours. However, those taking a hybrid approach, combining home working for part of the week and on-site working the rest of the time, believe they are doing the most of all, at 9.21 hours.

Interestingly, both employees working from home and those taking a hybrid approach found maintaining productivity more challenging than those working on site or in the workplace. However, maintaining productivity was not necessarily a primary challenge for either demographic, with 13% of on site and hybrid workers reporting productivity as their main challenge in light of COVID-19, compared to 7% of those working on site. The most common challenges for most workers were staying healthy, balancing work and family needs, and stress management.

The full report explores the effects of the pandemic that have impacted employees’ attitudes towards the current world of work and what they expect and hope for from the future workplace.

Jeff Phipps, Managing Director, ADP UK, commented:

 “Stagnating productivity is a huge challenge in the UK, yet employers are still fostering a culture of long hours and presenteeism, despite evidence that it doesn’t work.”

“Due to the pandemic, unpaid overtime has risen to eight hours this year alone. That’s two hours more compared to 2019. We know that employees perform well when they are engaged, healthy and motivated, with fair and transparent compensation for their efforts. Contrary to the high levels of unpaid overtime, which will only leave employees at risk of burnout, with negative long-term impacts for both productivity and performance.”

“It’s the role of leaders and managers to adapt to the ever-changing work landscape and set realistic objectives for employees while ensuring they have the resources and support to reach them within contracted hours,” continues Phipps. “Action is needed to shift the focus from quantity of hours worked to quality of output while giving staff sufficient downtime to recharge and spend time with their families. And if overtime is essential, employers must ensure that the additional hours are both rewarded and recognised effectively.”

About the research: People at Work 2021: A Global Workforce View explores employees’ attitudes towards the current world of work and what they expect and hope for from the workplace of the future.

ADP Research Institute surveyed 32,471 workers in 17 countries around the world between 17 November and 11 December 2020. This included:

  • 15,307 in Europe (France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and the UK)
  • 3,811 in North America (USA and Canada)
  • 5,726 in Latin America (Argentina, Brazil and Chile)
  • 7,627 in Asia Pacific (APAC) (Australia, China, India and Singapore)

Global results are weighted to represent the size of the working population for each country.  

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