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The Great British Time Squeeze

Jul 13, 2008
The United Kingdom has embraced the return of the 'long hours culture'. Over 3 million people have begun working over a 48 hour week. The number of people working long hours increased at a faster rate over the last year than the decline in excessive working between 1998 and 2006. The recent increase in working hours could be the result of the challenging economic climate, which has made employers more reluctant to recruit new staff, leading to existing employees having to work harder.

After slow but steady progress over the last decade, long working hours are making their way back into Britain's workplaces. Employees across the UK already work the longest hours in Western Europe with the least amount of public holidays. The recent increase will mean lower productivity, more stress and less time to have a life outside the office with friends and family.

This is supported by a recent survey commissioned by Beefeater Restaurants, which reveals that 70.6% of Britons don't feel they have a positive work/life balance. Work-life balance is achieved when an individual's right to a fulfilled life inside and outside paid work is accepted and respected as the norm, to the mutual benefit of the individual, business and society. The survey, carried out by NEMS Market Research, shows that, as a nation, Britons don't feel they spend enough time with their families and friends. The results reveal that, even in a culture which claims to prioritise a healthy work/life balance, British companies are falling short in their efforts.

A third (33.1%) of full-time workers surveyed didn't feel they spent enough time with their family and friends and cited a busy job and work pressure (83.8%) as the main obstacle. When questioned on the impact this had on their lives, more than a third of full-time workers (34.6%) felt that life was passing them by without enjoyment.

Working long hours also comes with a health warning. There is sufficient evidence for us to be concerned about the potentially negative effects of working long hours on physical health. The strongest evidence probably concerns the links with cardiovascular disorder.

Stress is often the outcome of a work/life imbalance. According to a survey conducted by the National Life Insurance Co., four out of ten employees state that their jobs are 'very' or 'extremely' stressful. It is clear that problems caused by stress have become a major concern to both employers and employees.

Symptoms of stress are manifested both physiologically and psychologically. Persistent stress can result in cardiovascular disease, sexual health problems, a weaker immune system and frequent headaches, stiff muscles, or backache. It can also result in poor coping skills, irritability, jumpiness, insecurity, exhaustion, and difficulty concentrating. Stress may also perpetuate or lead to binge eating, smoking, and alcohol consumption.

A survey conducted by Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank found that 44 per cent of workers in the United Kingdom take off fewer days of holiday than they are entitled to. Furthermore, 77 per cent admitted to keeping in touch with work, via email for example, while they are on holiday trying to relax.

One way of improving employees work/life balance is to ensure that they are able to use all of their holiday allocation effectively throughout the year. If employees were to take holidays throughout the year then it is suggested that employers would reap the benefits of increased productivity, improved recruitment and retention, lower rates of absenteeism, plus a more motivated, satisfied and equitable workforce.
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