UK employers claimed £27 billion of free labour last year because of workers doing unpaid overtime, according to new analysis published today (Friday) by the TUC.
Today is the TUC’s 18th annual Work Your Proper Hours Day. On this day, workers are encouraged to 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 and impact of the pandemic
3.8 million people did unpaid overtime in 2021, putting in an average of 7.6 unpaid hours a week. On average, that’s equivalent to £7,100 a year of wages going unpaid for work done.
Disruption from the pandemic made it a second year of unusual working patterns, with many workers furloughed. This has made it harder to understand longer-term trends in unpaid overtime. But the figures show that promises to ‘build back better’ are not being fulfilled when it comes to workers being paid for all the hours they work.
- Unpaid overtime was higher than in 2020: After a collapse in working hours during the first year of the pandemic, unpaid overtime has started to grow again in 2021. Between 2020 and 2021 the number of workers doing unpaid overtime grew by 427,000, and the proportion of workers doing unpaid overtime grew from 12.1% to 13.5%. (See Table 1 in notes)
- Occupations with most unpaid overtime: Managers and directors feature strongly, suggesting that the additional responsibilities of senior staff are not properly managed by employers. (See Table 2 in notes)
- Teaching professionals: As in previous years, teachers are high on the list. The challenges of keeping schools open for the children of key workers while providing home learning during lockdowns, and of covering for sick and self-isolating colleagues, has increased work intensity. In 2020, a quarter of teaching staff did unpaid overtime, and this rose to nearly a third (31%) in 2021. The average weekly unpaid hours for those doing unpaid overtime rose too, from 10.7 hours in 2020 to 11.2 hours in 2021. (See Table 2 in notes)
- Home workers: Most of the top 10 occupational groups for unpaid overtime are jobs likely to be possible to do from home. People who work from home are more likely to do unpaid overtime, while those who never work from home are more likely to do paid overtime. (See Table 2 in notes)
Working more for less
The TUC says the combination of labour shortages in parts of the economy and the cost of living crisis is likely to mean that many people are working more intensely for shrinking real pay packets.
In the public sector, overworking and excessive workloads are driven by a recruitment and retention crisis, exacerbated by a decade of government-imposed pay restraint.
The TUC is calling on the government to:
- Urgently fix the recruitment and retention crisis in the public sector, working with unions on a fully-funded workforce strategy.
- Support employers in sectors where there are skills shortages with more public funding for training and a ‘right to retrain’ for all workers so they can take up free training to reskill for available job opportunities.
- Give working people stronger rights to organise collectively in unions and bargain with their employer to ensure that they have decent control over their working time.
- Require employers and unions to negotiate sectoral Fair Pay Agreements for low paid sectors.
- Bring forward the long-promised employment bill and strengthen protections against overworking and burnout, including a day-one right to flexible working.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“Most of us are happy to put in some extra time when it’s needed, but we should get that time back when it’s quieter. Nobody should end up doing work they don’t get paid for.
“So today we’re calling on people to take your full lunch break and go home on time. And we’re calling on managers to encourage their staff to finish on time and to lead by example.
“Britain is now facing both labour shortages and a cost of living crisis. If the government does not take action to supporter workers, they will end up working longer hours for less pay.
“The Chancellor should use his spring statement to set out plans to tackle labour shortages in public services, and to fund training where there are skills shortages. And he should come forward with a plan to get wages rising across the economy.”
Commenting on the spread of long hours amongst those working from home, Frances added:
“During the pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in unpaid hours worked at home. With homeworking expected to stay higher after the pandemic, it is important that employers respect rights to clock-off and switch-off at home. Ministers should help by bringing in new rights to flexible working for everyone, including a right to switch-off outside working hours.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:
“Once again, teachers top the list of professions working significant unpaid overtime. Even before Covid-19, it was widely acknowledged that teachers and school leaders’ working hours had reached unsustainable levels. During the pandemic, their working week has got longer still. OECD data shows that teachers in this country work longer hours for less money than their international peers. The government urgently needs to do more to convince both graduates and experienced teachers and leaders that education is an attractive, viable and sustainable life-long career choice.”
Commenting on analysis released by the TUC for Work Your Proper Hours Day (Friday), Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:
“Yet again teachers rank very highly in the list of professions working the most unpaid overtime. This is a problem that has been going on for decades. The government launched an effort to tackle workload in 2015, but it became a damp squib achieving very little.
“Successive education secretaries have been unwilling to accept their role in the extraordinary numbers of hours teachers are expected to work, yet workload is the main reason they are seeing the departure of so many teachers, heads and support staff. It is generated by a tick-box culture of excessive accountability, which chews up many hours that could be better spent on child-focused work and causes people to work long into the evening. It is also generated by real-terms funding cuts which push staff to do more with less, and too often having to do so with fewer and fewer colleagues around them.
“This is not a sustainable situation, and it is leading to burnout. Significant numbers of recently trained teachers are leaving within the first five years of qualifying, invariably citing workload as the issue. Unless the government gets serious on the root causes, these losses will continue.”
Dr Patrick Roach, General Secretary of the NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union, said:
“Teachers yet again rank among the professions working the highest number of hours, with the TUC’s figures suggesting both an increase in the number of teachers undertaking unpaid overtime in 2021 and a rise in the number of unpaid extra hours worked.
“The pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated the problem of excessive workload within teaching still further, with nine in ten teachers in our recent teacher wellbeing survey saying they have experienced more work-related stress in the last year and over half saying that levels of workload are the biggest contributor to the growth in that stress.
“At the same time, teachers are working far in excess of their contracted hours for what, in real terms, amounts to less pay, thanks to the Government’s decision to impose a pay freeze on the profession for 2021/22.
“Teachers wanting or needing to reduce their hours, in some cases as a direct consequence of the impact of excessive workload and working hours on their health and wellbeing, often face significant barriers. Half of teachers in our survey said that their school does not provide flexible working opportunities. Member casework reveals that even where flexible working is offered, the reality is often very far from supportive or sufficient to meet teachers’ needs and offer them a genuine work/life balance.
“Providing world class education for children and young people does not and should not need to be at the expense of teachers’ health and welfare. Teachers deserve a better deal on their working hours, workloads and pay.”
Andy Wilson, UK Site Lead at Dropbox said:
“It’s well known that a high number of employees across numerous sectors work over their hours – in fact, WorkSmart found that over five million people gave their employers £35 billion of free work last year alone. This Work Your Proper Hours Day gives business leaders the opportunity to take a step back and ensure that they’re focusing on their employees having a positive work-life balance, meaning they’re able to clock off on time to meet friends, going for a walk or seeing family.
“At Dropbox, we’re driven to ensure employees have the freedom to spend time focusing on activities and commitments outside of work. We now work under our Virtual First model, which gives those in our company the freedom to work when they are most productive and creative. Employees can structure their diaries based on their own favoured work patterns, whether they’re early birds, night owls – or parents who wish to schedule their work around picking up their children from school. This way, our people have true flexibility when designing their days, and can create their schedule depending on their own individual needs. To support this, we’ve also developed our own screen recording tool called Dropbox Capture, which has become essential in cutting back on meetings and emails.”