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Employees work 19 million days unpaid overtime a month

Of those who worked overtime, 26% worked up to a day extra per month

Over half (54%) of UK employees work between four and 30 hours overtime each month, according to research published today by workforce management solutions provider Protime UK. The extra hours equate to 19 million days of overtime per month.

Unrealistic workloads were found to be the main reason for employees working overtime, as 28% of employees reported that they were unable to get their work done during the working day. 

Over half of employees (53%) experienced increased stress and anxiety, and 41% reported feeling burnt out as a result.

Simon Garrity, Protime's country manager, told HR magazine that employers should take a preventative approach to overtime.

He said: “HR must address overwork as a top strategic priority; the long-term health and competitiveness of their organisations depends on it.

“A preventative approach is more effective than trying to mitigate the impact of employee burnout on wellbeing and engagement.”

One in five (22%) employees reported wanting to leave their current job in the next six months to escape overwork, while just under half (49%) said that they won’t take on additional work.

Letitia Rowlin, principle wellbeing consultant at Aon, noted that employers have a legal responsibility to prevent excessive workload for employees.

Read more: Work is getting more intense, say over half of employees

She told HR magazine: “An employer has a duty to ensure that workloads are not excessive to the extent they are causing harm. 

“High job demands, workload, work pace and long working hours can all constitute psychosocial risks in the workplace. 

“Carrying out a risk assessment of psychosocial risks and putting in control measures to reduce the risk as far as is reasonably practicable will help businesses comply with legal obligations and create a safer working environment, with the aim of reducing overworking and the potential harm caused by it.”

The report also found that over a quarter (29%) of employees reported that they wanted their manager to more proactively manage their workload. A further 28% said that overwork had negatively impacted their relationship with a manager.

HR should equip managers with workload management skills to prevent overworking, suggested John McLaughlin, Aon's chief commercial officer EMEA and UK, and partner.

Read more: How can HR leaders help manage psychological stress in the workplace?

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “An area for companies to focus on is building manager capability across all levels of their firm. 

“Managers are often first responders. By building an awareness around work/life balance and a capability to help their direct reports manage their workload in the best possible manner ,we can drive significant change. 

“Further, by building capability in managers we create role models that allow us to scale an approach to work/life balance across the organisation at speed.”

McLaughlin added that HR could introduce a four-day week to enable employees to work longer hours but take longer breaks.

He continued: “Where feasible, four-day working might be an alternative. 

“It has been trialled successfully across the globe by companies large and small. Maybe more importantly, employee feedback has largely been positive – even when employees ended up working longer hours during the four days. 

“The three-day weekend trumped that downside and creates an overall net positive outcome.”

Protime UK surveyed 2,000 UK employees in April 2024. The research was published today.