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Springfords LLP blog

Some news, views and comments about everything and anything, relevant and irreverent.

Time and time and overtime again

14 August 2014

Nine to five may be the tradition, but tradition is northing in the face of modern working practices.  Many shudder at the thought of a return to Victorian hours, but in this “always on” world, most of the toiling masses would welcome the chance to reduce their hours back to that level.

Back in the days when we made stuff in this country things were different. Yes, we know, we make shed loads of stuff (we even make sheds) - but we’re talking about the days of a factory on every corner and a supply workshop down every lane.  When the turn of the lathe and the workbench was the place of employment, taking your work home was not an option.

Oh, for the chance to leave work behind these days.  With our de-industrialised service economy in full swing, everything on email and nothing supplied with an obvious off switch, it’s less a temptation to answer that last late communication, and more of a necessity.  At least, back in the days of the factory floor, the end of the shift meant the end of the working day.

Today, we’ve swapped brown overalls for white collars, and there’s mounting evidence, reported recently by BBC News, that almost half of UK managers work an extra day of unpaid overtime per week.

The Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) said work pressures and easy access to email through smartphone technology leave over 90% of managers working outside contracted hours. The ILM polled over 1000 managers - doubtless by calling them late at night on their home phones - and asked them if they had a few minutes to do a survey.  Most answered “yes, but not long, I’m just finishing off these emails.”

"When you add up all the skipped lunch breaks, early morning conference calls and after hours emails you see just how widespread the extra hours culture is within UK business," said ILM chief executive Charles Elvin (from his home office, on Sunday afternoon).

You may feel motivated to put in the extra hours now and again, and there’s nothing wrong with that - especially if you have a tangible stake in your business.  However, the ‘constant on’ and ‘presentee culture’ wears down productivity.  Counterproductively, organisations like the Work Foundation, say that relentless unpaid overtime relentlessly leads to underperformance.  That’s bad news for business in general, and really bad news for those self-employed, for whom productivity impacts absolutely on income.

Putting the technology genie back in the box is not going to happen, but if our overworked, under-producing culture is affecting national efficiency, that’s a problem for all of us.   If putting in a steady eight hours brings more results than a twelve hour day punctuated by tweets and emails, then maybe switching off at the end of the shift could just work, whether it’s a lathe or a laser printer that occupies your workspace. 


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