Dealing With Long Working Hours

People who are inclined to work longer hours than most tend to do so for a number of reasons. Some have little choice; their employer’s needs may dictate that they are required to put in more time and providing it’s within the terms and conditions of an Employee’s Contract and conforms to the EU’s Working Time Directive, then there is little that employees can often do apart from grin and bear it or to look for another job.

Before we look at the effects of long hours and how to handle them, below is a quick summary of the directive itself:

  • Workers can’t work more than 48 hours a week averaged over 17 weeks, unless they choose to
  • Trainee doctors can’t work more than 48 hours a week averaged over 26 weeks.
  • There are exemptions for certain sectors
  • You contract of employment should set out your working hours clearly.

Where the directive does NOT apply:

  • if working time is not easily measured and the worker has control over their decisions (eg.managers)
  • Armed forces
  • Emergency Services
  • Some security/surveillance jobs
  • Domestic staff in private homes where round the clock cover is needed.
  • Certain seafarers, fishermen and workers on sea vessels or inland waterways

If you choose to opt out…

Individual workers 18 or over, who want to, can choose to opt out of the 48-hour limit but it must be voluntary and recording in writing. It cannot apply in a general agreement with an entire workforce but employers can ask ‘individual’ workers if they’d be willing to opt out. Employees who refuse to opt out should not be sacked for doing so.

Cancelling your opt-out agreement…

Give at least 7 days notice (or longer if stated in your opt out agreement) to your employer. Your employer cannot force a worker to cancel their opt-out agreement.

Putting in the Hours

Others will actively choose to work long hours and it is not necessarily the lowest paid who choose to work more hours to bring their income up to an acceptable level. On the contrary, although some lower paid workers do fit into this category; overwhelming evidence suggests that it is those who fit into the higher earnings bracket who make up the majority of those working longer hours. This is partly due to a lifestyle choice but often those in well paid, executive positions are expected to work extra time when needed (hence the high pay)…or feel they should do so to keep up with their colleagues who are doing the same thing.

Effects of Working Long Hours

There is irrefutable evidence that working long hours is not good for us. We are more likely to take time off sick in the long run and there is more chance of us having an accident at work if we are over-tired. Stress, anxiety, depression and burnout are common and these types of factors are not going to just affect our work but our personal lives too with conflicts between spouses and partners and also our children alongside trying to balance both personal and work commitments often proving to be a seemingly impossible task.

It’s also true that employers often find that the benefits to them of their staff working longer hours can be counteracted by the problems caused when expensive mistakes are made and staff morale drops significantly due to a culture of longer working patterns.

How to Cope with Working Long Hours

The EU’s Working Time Directive does have an impact upon reducing the opportunity for employers exploiting their workforce into forcing them to work longer hours. However, for some people, working long hours is an option that they choose to do in order to maintain a certain lifestyle or to keep on top of their bills and debts.

For this group, there is a growing trend towards trying to adopt newer ways of working which can lessen the impact of our 24/7 working culture. These include part-time work. It’s always been available but now there are now regulations in place which give part-timers the same rights as full-timers which wasn’t the case before 2000.

Flexitime and Working from Home are two other important advancements as ways in which we can work more productively. Then there are schemes whereby you can accrue extra paid annual holiday leave if you work more than a set number of hours each month. Instead of being paid for them, you can simply take them as paid leave later, giving you extra holiday entitlements which suit many people.

Other schemes aimed at parents with younger children enable them to work Flexible Hours in order to drop off and pick up their children from school and build their working hours around family commitments. There are some companies who actively encourage people to take a sabbatical from work now and again, giving them a lengthy period away from the workplace to travel or to pursue some other personal goals.

What is undisputed however is that, whatever our reasons for working longer hours, it can have a devastating impact upon our health, our work performance and our personal lives if both employers and workers don’t seek to try to get the balance right.

Last Updated on 25 May 2021

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