Many of us are used to putting in extra hours in the office, whether it’s to tackle a growing workload or to impress our bosses.
According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), we now work 30 minutes more every week compared to 10 years ago.
On average, workers in the UK put in 10.1 overtime hours per week, which is the equivalent of 469 hours per year, a recent overtime survey found - and nearly 10% work more than 30 hours a week. Moreover, only 10% of those surveyed work overtime for the love of the job.
But does leaving the office late actually benefit our careers?
“I remember in my very first role being told by a senior manager when she found me working late ‘if you regularly find yourself working beyond your allocated hours you either have too much workload for one person or you are not managing your working hours properly’,” says Suki Bassi of the workplace wellbeing organisation Happy Maven.
“I wish that all line managers were this insightful and over the years I have often been reminded of this advice and, unfortunately, have also borne the harsh physical and emotional consequences for ignoring it.
“Her advice is even more pertinent today where many of us can find ourselves connected to work and colleagues 24/7 via technology – whether that be work emails or team whatsapp chats – not only encroaching upon our personal time but also not allowing us to truly be switched off from work.”
If you’re always staying late at work, it can lead to feelings of stress, exhaustion and frustration. When unchecked, this can lead to burnout - a state of chronic stress that impacts both physical and mental health and lead to detachment from work.
Working overtime too often can also stifle creativity and lead to a drop in productivity, as well as result in poor work-life balance, lower job satisfaction and performance. It’s impossible to concentrate and be focused for ten or more hours a day - so working longer hours can lead to rushed work and costly mistakes. Staying at work for an extra two hours each day might not mean more work gets done.
“Workplace culture obviously has a huge part to play in setting expectations and in some industries, such as law or sales, a paradigm shift in ways of working is needed,” Bassi says. “Human beings need physical and mental breaks to survive.”
The effects of regular long working hours on our health are wide-ranging, too. Earlier this year, a French study of more than 143 ,000 participants found those who worked ten or more hours a day for at least 50 days per year had a 29% greater risk of stroke. Long working hours have also been shown to increase the likelihood of smoking, excessive drinking and heart disease too.
So if working longer hours and doing too much overtime is so bad for us, why are we still doing it?
There are a number of factors behind the rise in people working longer days. Concerns around holding down a job in unstable times and automation are partly to blame, as well as rising living costs.
‘Rest, recharge, recalibrate’
Some people may end up working extra hours due to guilt or fear of being labelled lazy by managers if they go home on time. Many workers also face an ever-increasing workload and simply have too much work to do in their allocated hours.
And lots of us bring the burden home with us too, answering phone calls and fielding emails when we’re supposed to be relaxing and unwinding in the evening.
“As we move towards more flexible and remote working this issue will become even more relevant and pressing and employers will find that their duty of care extends to ensuring that their people can and do 'switch off',” Bassi says.
“To thrive, to be creative, to be collaborative they need to rest, to recharge, to recalibrate,” she adds. “Workplaces need to recognise that personal time and annual leave is as critical to productivity and performance as the hours that an employee works and they need to be monitoring working hours and patterns as well as annual leave entitlement to ensure that they are following best practice.”