Trades Union Congress (TUC) research found that 3.5 million people in the UK did unpaid overtime in 2022, putting in an average of 7.4 unpaid hours each week.
The figures published for the TUC’s 19th annual Work Your Proper Hours Day showed the number of employees doing unpaid overtime had dropped by two million during the pandemic, with no sign that 2022’s lockdown-free year meant a return to previous high levels.
The theoretical cost of unpaid overtime to those who worked it averaged £7,200 annually.
TUC general secretary Paul Nowak told HR magazine that while workers do not necessarily mind putting in longer hours on occasion, employers relying on unpaid overtime were simply exploiting their staff.
He said: “With staff shortages in many industries, work intensity and pressure to work longer days is a big problem. And the longstanding rights workers have that place safe limits on working time are hanging by a thread.”
The government’s Retained EU Law bill, which aims to remove all remaining EU law from the UK statute books, risks a huge number of employment rights, such as the 48-hour week, according to Nowak.
He said: “Whether you voted for Brexit or not, none of us voted to have our workplace protections taken away. Ministers should scrap the bill going through parliament that is putting these rights at risk.
“Long working hours can lead to sickness, burnout, low productivity and high staff turnover. HR managers should consult with unions on non-invasive approaches to monitoring these issues, and on staff engagement such as wellbeing surveys.
“Health and safety union reps are particularly important as they have a statutory role in risk assessments and preventing problems like burnout.”
Public sector employees were significantly more likely to work unpaid overtime, with 28% of teachers saying they regularly worked more than their contracted hours.
Unpaid overtime has long been a problem for UK workers, according to Steve Herbert, wellbeing and benefits director at insurance advice firm Partners&.
He told HR magazine: “It has always been an issue in the British workplace, and remains an expected element of job roles in some sectors. This doesn’t make it right of course, but we should accept that this is the norm for millions of workers regardless of legislation protections or contracts of employment.”
He said the number of unpaid hours worked often increases in times of economic uncertainty and warned: “In such situations, employees often do more than their contracted hours to protect their positions and demonstrate their value to the employer.
“This is unlikely to change in 2023, regardless of any concerns raised by HR professionals.”