No matter how fantastic their job, most people value and look forward to their annual holiday leave and the possibilities for travel, relaxing and forgetting about office duties and politics for a while. It is therefore ironic to learn that many British workers, particularly those in managerial roles, do enough unpaid overtime during the year to match the official time allocated to them as holidays.
A survey conducted by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) revealed that nine out of ten managers regularly do extra work off the clock. Around three-quarters of the respondents said they spend at least an hour every day of the week doing work-related tasks in their own time, while 10% claimed their unpaid work tasks added up to two full days a week.
Many managers claimed they felt pressured, either officially or personally, to work harder, resulting in them adopting practices such as working through lunch, going into the office early, staying late to catch up on emails and paperwork, and spending time on web-based tasks such as emails at home during the evening and weekend.
These work practices have serious implications for both physical and mental health, heightening the risk of issues ranging from stress and insomnia-related problems to depression and emotional breakdown. As expected, participants in the survey who were doing unpaid overtime reported stress levels three times higher than managers who were not.
The pressure to prove your worth in a rocky economy combined with the increasing use of smartphone technology, which can function as a portable office in your pocket, are blurring the lines between work and personal time.
Survey analysts claim that modern-day managers need official permission to carve out a more balanced work-life timetable, with some needing guidance on how to do so. This is crucial for the economy – apart from the human cost, stressed managers cannot deliver at top speed and could even damage general workplace achievements.
Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester Business School, suggests that these results are a danger sign indicating the need for immediate attention and that failure to take action could have seriously damaging effects on the economy. Cooper adds that although a certain level of stress in the workplace can be a great motivator in the short term, conditions that require a manager to consistently do unpaid overtime encourage resentment to build to crisis point.
A solution to this problem depends on a change in attitudes towards what makes a ‘good’ worker or manager. Ann Francke, CEO of the CMI, believes that realistic workloads are essential for managers to find the balance between home and work life, along with the need to learn how to switch off from work so that free time and holidays mean exactly that.
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