Unpaid overtime has become increasingly prevalent among the UK workforce, according to a study by HR software provider Ciphr, with millions of employees routinely cutting lunch breaks short and extending their work hours to manage workload demands effectively.
Ciphr’s survey of 1,000 UK workers found the proportion of employees devoting unpaid hours to their jobs outnumber those who receive compensation for overtime (49% compared to 23%).
Among those who regularly work 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.
However, the survey also found that one in nine participants (11%) contribute an extra five unpaid hours each week.
The employees most likely to work the longest extra hours unpaid include senior managers (averaging 4.1 hours a week), 25- to 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 respectively).
A common way in which employees accrue extra working hours is by shortening lunch breaks or skipping them altogether. During the week of the survey, only 36% of respondents managed to take their full lunch break each day, and as many as one in four participants (23%) barely took any lunch breaks at all that week.
Claire Williams, chief people officer at Ciphr, said the research was “a good reminder” of the importance of keeping track of employees’ working hours. However, she also acknowledged 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,” Williams said. “Lots of people enjoy their jobs and want to do additional work. Sometimes, though, people simply want to finish what they’ve been working on that day to tick it off their to-do list.
“The issues occur when unpaid overtime is both very frequent and excessive, when employees aren’t taking enough breaks and the downtime they need, and when there’s a lack of recognition from an employer that there’s an underlying problem – usually, but not always, workload-related – that needs to be urgently addressed,” Williams added.