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Clock-Watching Campaign Fails to Tackle UK Long Hours

22nd February 2006

TUC's Clock-Watching Campaign Fails to Tackle Root Cause of UK Long Hours

Encouraging employees to 'work their proper hours' tomorrow will only put a band aid over the UK's long hours problem, warns experts in workplace issues including employment and health & safety, Croner. Working long hours is a classic sign of stress, and reducing stress will be key to improving the nation's work/life balance.

A clock-watching approach to tackling a complex workplace problem merely perpetuates a 'presenteeism' culture that measures "time served", regardless of productivity or efficiency, says the company.

Stress levels are soaring among employees who are putting in extra hours due to underlying workload demands, productivity issues and failure to take annual leave. But rather than prescribe a rigid 9-5 culture, Croner is advising employers to address work demands, working methods and ways of identifying and helping stressed out employees.

Employers must also more effectively manage annual leave policies to combat a massive 'holiday debt' owed to UK workers. Employees lose up to 14.5 billion in unclaimed holidays each year, with one in three workers not taking their full holiday entitlement, according to Croner research last December.

Richard Smith, employment services director at Croner, says: "While Work Your Proper Hours Day raises awareness of the unpaid overtime problem, it's not really helping employers to manage it. From an employer's point of view, long hours are not necessarily productive hours and they need to assess whether a presenteeism culture, unproductive working methods, and stress are playing a part in this.

"A classic sign of stress is when an individual starts coming into work very early or working very late. However, the standard of their work may still be suffering, so they work even longer hours to compensate. But leaving work on time everyday, as the TUC recommends, won't help change anyone's life if they're still stressing about their workload when they get home.

"Employers should be addressing the root cause of the long hours culture - and meeting their 'duty of care' to employees - by looking out for the signs of stress and taking action to reduce its cause."

Practical steps could include individual meetings with employees to identify where their workload could be reduced or working methods improved to help them leave work at a reasonable time. Employers should also monitor annual leave to ensure employees are taking their all-important holiday time to unwind and de-stress.

Richard says: "While it's reasonable for an employer to expect some degree of flexibility during a particularly busy period, employees shouldn't feel they are on their own, and should feel able to talk to their manager if they have too much work or are struggling to cope."

"Rather than restricting working hours, better management and monitoring of workloads and stress levels should naturally help bring down the number of hours worked."
Wolters Kluwer (UK) Ltd