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Half of UK employees regularly work unpaid overtime

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Senior managers top the poll for working the longest unpaid hours

The average UK worker carries out over 139 hours – the equivalent of 18 days of unpaid overtime a year and half of UK employees regularly working extra, unpaid hours according to a new survey.

The research from HR software provider, Ciphr, reveals millions of employees are regularly shortening their lunch breaks and finishing late to keep ahead of their workload.

The survey polled 1,000 UK workers to discover how much unpaid overtime employees worked on average. It revealed, more employees work unpaid hours than employees who receive overtime pay (49% compared to 23%). Among those who worked unpaid overtime, the average time clocked up each week is just over three hours (184 minutes). Over a five-day work week, that’s around 37 minutes extra per shift. One in nine (11%) of those surveyed are posting five additional, unpaid hours a week.

Employees most likely to work the longest extra hours unpaid are senior managers (averaging 4.1 hours a week) followed by 25-34-year-olds (3.5 hours), remote workers (3.5 hours), and those working in legal services and education (4.1 hours and 3.9 hours).

While many employees expect a degree of unpaid work, few are aware of how those extra minutes (over and above contracted hours) can add up.  Shortening or skipping lunch appears to be the most common way employees overwork. In the week of the survey, 36% of respondents took a full lunch break every day – while 23% failed to have a full lunch break at all.

If this pattern of overworking, through breaks and after hours, is left unchecked long term, it could impact employees’ mental well-being, further leading to resentment, especially if the unpaid overtime is due to big workloads, understaffing, or unrealistic targets.

Claire Williams, chief people officer at Ciphr, says: “If an individual thinks they are doing too many unpaid hours, then it’s vital that they address this with their employer as soon as possible. Doing a bit of extra work occasionally is one thing – and it is relatively common practice to work additional hours, at times, to fulfil your role – but feeling like you ‘have’ to do that extra work regularly because it is being expected of you is quite another. The reality is that there are upsides, as well as obvious downsides, to people working extra hours. It doesn’t always need to be perceived as a negative and it can – and should – generate goodwill and flexibility from employers in return.“

Ciphr has created an unpaid overtime hours calculator that employees can use to estimate how many extra hours they are potentially working for free a year www.ciphr.com/unpaid-hours-calculator.


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