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Breaking the cycle of high overtime, low wellbeing and poor productivity

Leading HR thinker Cary Cooper recently highlighted how the UK’s long hours culture does nothing to help address persistent low levels of productivity. 

Whilst his analysis was principally focused on office-based employees, the issue is even more acute when you consider the impact overworking and overtime has on the UK’s 3.6 million shift workers.

It was great to see Cary Cooper’s recent article in HR magazine highlight how working more hours negatively impacts employee wellbeing and productivity.

Cary is professor of organisational psychology and health at Manchester Business School and one of the most influential voices in HR…so when he speaks employers should be listening.

However, it’s important that we see long hours culture as a problem that’s bigger than just burnt-out CEOs and jaded middle managers.

Working Time Solutions has been championing the issue from the perspective of employers and front-line shift workers who together can become trapped in the “vicious cycle” of overworking which:

  • Leads to fatigue-related accidents and quality issues
  • Negatively impacts mental and physical health
  • Upsets work-life balance
  • Encourages negative attitudes and behaviours
  • Creates unnecessary and costly overtime
  • Leads to recruitment & retention issues

The UK is one of the few countries in the world where long working hours are culturally acceptable…and yet we lag behind many of our peers in terms of productivity.

As Cary points out, it doesn’t have to be this way and more needs to be done to recognise this as a major issue that is harming UK Plc’s growth and creating additional wellbeing-related burdens on society.

Our move towards a 24/7 culture will only see the number of shift workers increase, so it’s imperative that we create working patterns that can meet this rising demand without placing unsustainable pressure on organisations and their workforces.

We should never forget that employees’ lives are built around their shift patterns.

By adopting new approaches to workforce planning and management, reliance on overtime and consequently long hours can be dramatically reduced leading to a better work-life balance and improved productivity levels.

Commenting on the issue, Kevin White, Managing Director at Working Time Solutions, said: “As always Cary has his finger on the pulse of what is happening and no exception here in terms of productivity.

“The long hours, stress and fatigue created by high overtime shift working situations has long been proven to be dangerous and has been a contributing factor in many major accidents over the years.

“The effect on productivity of long hours working in this type of environment is also pronounced and organisations should no longer consider such ways of working as safe, healthy or productive. Such labour models surely cannot be deemed acceptable in terms of CSR.

“More academic research is required in this field to support a change in the British dependency on overtime, create more jobs and provide a healthier, safer and more efficient workplace”.

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