How Working Overtime Affects Your Body, Mind and Life

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How Working Overtime Affects Your Body, Mind and Life

Overtime culture


There was an article published in The Times recently, talking about Madonna’s daughter Lourdes working for the first time – and hating it. I read it, not because I’m particularly interested in Madonna or her daughter, for that matter, but because a source within the article (a publisher) likened productivity with working overtime, and dismissed one of their employee’s (valid) concerns that the publishing company did not allow for a healthy work-life balance. Honestly, the best thing about the article is the comments – full of people disagreeing with this stance and arguing about the damage of overtime culture. Especially as most overtime now is unpaid.


Overtime Culture: Costing Your Bank Account

In 2018, The Trades Union Congress (TUC) found that UK companies claimed £32.7 billion of free labour, due to the amount of unpaid overtime their employees worked. More than 5 million people put in 7.5 hours a week in unpaid overtime – the equivalent of £6,532 from an individual’s pay packet annually. If you want to know just how much unpaid overtime you’ve done, check out this link – it calculates what your salary would be if you were paid for the hours you actually work (Consider taking that to your boss next time you need to build a business case for a promotion!).


Overtime Culture: Costing Your Health

So now that we’ve calculated how much overtime culture is literally costing us, let’s figure out how much it’s costing our health. Totally Money surveyed 2,000 workers and found that 61% of respondents don’t have a good work/life balance. Half of those surveyed say that they feel stressed due to work – only 10% of people work overtime because of the genuine love for their job. 29% work overtime because of workplace pressure, either from their colleagues or from senior figures. And here I was thinking we were taught to say no to peer pressure. As for us lucky Londoners – we do the most overtime in the country!


In the UK, the average lunch break is only 22 minutes long (or short) – even though most of us are contracted to have an hour’s lunch break. 1 in 5 workers never leave their desks during lunchtime – even though being sat for eight hours a day kills as many people globally as smoking. Total Jobs found that a third of UK employees don’t leave their workplace after they arrive in the morning – only leaving the office to go home in the evening. That equates to Brits losing 18 days annually from consistently not taking their lunch break.


It’s not just our lunch breaks that we’re terrible at taking – we’re not very good at taking sick leave either. A survey by National Accident Helpline has revealed some worrying statistics about Brit’s and their sick leave – 89% of Brits admitted to going into work sick and 53% have taken no sick days in the last six months even when ill.


Overtime Culture: Costing Your Performance

The thing is, we shouldn’t be taking on excessive unpaid overtime – and companies shouldn’t be encouraging it either. Working longer hours may increase the amount that is done, but the quality of the work will undoubtedly suffer. Look at these statistics from The Conversation: after working 48 hours a week, job performance begins to rapidly decrease. After 39 hours, mental health tends to decline. If you work more than 10 hours a day, your risk of workplace injury is increased by 40% – if you work more than 12, it’s 50%. And the costs of working overtime seep into our personal lives – longer working hours harms relationships, erodes job satisfaction and can contribute to depression.


Reclaim Your Time, Reduce Your Overtime

So, what can we do to reclaim our time, and decrease our overtime? Schedule your time wisely. I love having a casual chat with a co-worker in the kitchen as much as the average person (probably more, to be honest), but if it’s not about work, leave it until your lunch break. Or offer to catch up with them outside of work – take those work friendships into your real life. And most of your friends texting you throughout the day – they can probably wait until your break too. Or just smuggle your phone into the bathroom with you if you’re that desperate to text them (multitasking!).


Devote a certain amount of time to a certain task – the woman I sit next to at work tells me if I’m fretting over something and it’s taking up too much of my time that I should put it aside and go back to it when my mind is fresher. Another thing to do is to devote time to winding down – ask your team an hour or so before your home time if there’s any last-minute requests that need to be dealt with urgently. There may be some less urgent tasks that come up as you’re winding down – it’s often fine to look at those things first thing the next day when you’re well-rested and feeling fresh.


Also – be assertive. Often times it’s being polite and saying yes to additional tasks that increase our workload, and thus, our time spent in the office. Repeat after me – it’s okay to say no! Honestly evaluate your workload and decide as to whether you can take on any more tasks. It’s okay to politely decline or suggest alternatives. No one is going to get mad if you offer an: “I’m sorry, I’m dealing with an urgent task with a short turnaround. Am I able to look at this tomorrow, and get it back to you by this date?”


Schedule in your social time – book classes, restaurants, musicals after work! Having an appointment to go focuses your mind on completing everything by that scheduled time – just make sure to let your team know in advance so if something does come up last minute, it can be delegated.


You need to prioritise your health and your work/life balance more than you prioritise your work. At the end of the day, regardless of how much you love your job – you are not your job. 

Words by Kate Edwina


Read more about overtime culture in the fashion industry here.


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