Working 9 to… 9?

Published: 21st July 2017

Most people, at some point, have experienced that moment when they finally lift their head from their computer or laptop and realise it is suddenly dark outside, the rest of your colleagues are long gone, and the cleaner is hoovering around your desk.

This can happen for any number of acceptable reasons; you have a deadline to hit, you’re working on a project you want to ensure is perfect or you’re going on annual leave and you want to tie up loose ends. All perfectly reasonable. However, there are hundreds of companies where long hours, and the concept of ‘going above and beyond’ has become less something that is commended and rewarded, but more an obligation and expectation, making employees feel pressured to stay late simply to make sure their manager thinks they are pulling their weight.

21 June, the longest day of the year, was declared as 2017’s ‘Go Home on Time Day’, and was brought about to ask the question as to whether a work-life balance is valued in your organisation. ‘Go Home on Time Day’ was set up by Working Families, a charity that helps working parents and carers and their employers find a better balance between responsibilities at home and work. It’s an annual event designed to raise awareness of the importance of work-life balance, and it’s a helpful flag to employers, managers and HR teams to be thinking about how often their teams are working late and the impact of that for engagement, well-being and ultimately staff retention.

In the latest Absence Management survey completed by CIPD, 56% of HR professionals surveyed said long working hours are the norm in their organisation to a great or moderate extent, up from 43% in 2015. This rise is consistent with recent findings from the TUC that the number of people working excessive hours has risen by 15% since 2010. In contrast, only 14% of employers said they didn’t have a ‘stay late’ culture.

The survey found that there was a correlation between working long hours, and some concerning workplace trends:

Stress-related absences are more common where long working hours are the norm.

Presenteeism (people coming to work ill) was found to be associated with a long hours working culture. It makes sense in that if you feel you can’t leave on time you may also feel you can’t take time off when you’re ill.

Increases in mental health problems are somewhat related to a long hours’ culture.

To try and tackle this, role modelling needs to come from senior management as much as through policies and good practice. Secondly, line managers have an important role to play in keeping an eye on the development of long hours’ cultures at work, and making sure it doesn’t become a problem. Ensuring employee workloads are manageable, having regular one-to-ones as well as opportunities for feedback are all effective tools for doing this. Employers are going to be on the back foot when it comes to attracting and retaining talented people if going home on time is a novelty and so promoting a healthy work-life balance is the best way to keep you staff happy, healthy and productive.