A hard day’s night

In the UK we work the longest hours in Europe, giving away more than £23 billion to employers through unpaid overtime.


In the UK we work the longest hours in Europe, giving away more than £23 billion to employers through unpaid overtime.

In the UK we work the longest hours in Europe, giving away more than £23 billion to employers through unpaid overtime. We also have one of the highest divorce rates and only the Germans, Irish and Fins out-drink us boozy Brits.

Tabloids tend to swell with jingoistic pride when reports reveal how hard-working we are. It’s what we’re about. It’s why we ruled the waves, won the Battle of Britain and invented shows like Britain’s Strongest Man and Dancing on Ice.

But the fact is that, for the ordinary person, putting your nose to the grindstone day in and day out is not a good thing. It’s draining and stressful. It’s bad for your friendships; your relationships; your physical and mental health. 

From a purely work-related view, you become steadily less productive. So the uproar about the proposals to change parental leave, and maternity and – most controversial of all – paternity leave, seem a little over the top.

The silliest argument against increased paternity leave is that the system is open to abuse because an employee may just be pretending his partner has had a baby. Surely GPs have telephones and access to email?

Another concern is that implementing these measures would cost the taxpayer an extra £5.3 billion at a time when everyone is a little bit strapped for cash. Well, subtract that figure from the £23 billion of unpaid overtime and you can see that the overall costs will be balanced out at some point. Besides, I’m sure the taxpayer won’t mind too much if they can spend more time with their families (although there will be some dysfunctional exceptions here…).

Sure, from the employer’s standpoint, allowing fathers to have four months of dedicated ‘parental leave’, which can be taken after the mother’s six months of maternity leave comes to an end, may seem indulgent and irritating, but you may just get a better and more motivated employee working for you as a result.

Neville Upton, founder of outsourced call centre The Listening Company, realised that both he and his staff were tired and burnt out. They all sat down and discussed why something had to be done. ‘I really wanted to put across the importance of spending enough time at home and concentrating on things like fitness,’ he says.  

For Upton, it meant implementing simple, basic lifestyle changes. ‘Now, if I put something in my diary like going to my kids assembly, I’ll go to it no matter what.’

Too touchy-feely? Impractical? New Age nonsense? Perhaps. But since Upton had that chat, the company has grown by 40 per cent year-on-year.

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