Work till you drop: our changing view on overtime

Study after study shows that the U.K. is a nation of over-workers - more than two thirds of us regularly work unpaid extra hours, with many more unable to separate themselves from work even once they’re at home. How often do you check your work emails as you sit down for dinner? How often are you skipping lunch to get ahead at work? But the younger generation are beginning to tackle the issue of overworking in the U.K. by shedding light on to the negative way that all those hours on the job can affect our mental health. With more and more workers wanting more control and flexibility in their work - just like our Talents - the expectation on workers to work overtime has to change.

Workaholic - an old, damaging, stereotype

From a young age we’re taught that being a ‘loyal’ or ‘hard-working’ employee is linked to the amount of time we spend at work. Companies praise staff who are willing to stay behind long after the working day has ended, and workers who will work huge amounts of overtime without expecting pay are especially valued.

Lots of workers are now realising this is not a healthy work ethic to encourage. There are plenty of people who know the importance of establishing time away from work, whether it be for health reasons, or simply because we need time to be ourselves! Workers recognise that having boundaries between work and home are important for our health and wellbeing - it means time to relax and time to process the stress of the working day. This is important even for those of us who love being at work - and we know that the hospitality and healthcare industries are full of people who pour every part of ourselves into their jobs.

These industries are full of passionate people - unfortunately, this passion can often translate into hours and hours of overtime, especially for small business owners who’ll spend every moment they can at work. We all know them! All day every day, work, work, work.

Even those of us who love spending time at work need to prioritize time away or risk becoming burnout - and there is nothing that can kill a passion quicker than becoming burnout! You can read more about practicing good mental health at the end of the working day, and the importance of creating boundaries between work and home in a previous Brigad article.

However, despite the clear health benefits of us taking time away from work, there can be still negative associations with those of us who do not commit to massive amounts of overtime. These associations can add a huge pressure on employees to commit to overtime or risk being categorized as the least productive - but at the end of the day, this ‘hard-working’ attitude might not always put them in line for a promotion. So, what is the result of this? Many people believe that working long hours and sacrificing their personal lives for their job is the only way to become successful. This mindset isn’t good for anyone!

Measuring success by busyness

Not so long ago, success was measured by the amount of free time people appeared to have. The successful people in the world were the type to spend the majority of the year on holiday, the type to make extravagant trips, or for expensive hobbies. However, today the most successful people are believed to be the busiest people. In a world centered by social media, an active Instagram feed and a stacked work schedule create the same image: you are busy, you are important, you are successful. Research shows that we judge both success and professionalism by how busy we believe people to be. For example, we are more likely to believe someone is professional if they have little free time, rather than someone who prioritises leisure. In a world where there are more self-described ‘entrepreneurs’ than ever before, creating the image of a busy ‘hustling’ businessperson gives us the impression of success. Busy people are in demand, therefore they must be highly sought-after, and if they are sought-after then they must be successful.    

Because of this, we also feel the need to make ourselves busy to be seen as successful. Whether or not this busyness is genuine - clever businesses can generate a ‘busy’ image on social media that might not be entirely true-to-life - people who want to be successful feel the need to cram as much work into their day as possible in order to create that highly sought-after image. And, of course, who doesn’t want to be seen as professional? And so, in the U.K. more people are overworked now than in decades.

Hard-working, or over-working?

Cases of overworking have soared in the U.K. - recent statistics show that two out of three people currently feel overworked in their employment. But overworking is not treated as seriously as it should be - many people will refer to themselves lightheartedly as workaholics - this happens so often that many of us don’t realize that workaholism is a real mental illness. 40 percent of us in the U.K. show signs of workaholism - this includes being unable to ‘switch off from work’, meaning even in our free time work is on the mind. Unable to leave thoughts about work at work, we carry the stress of our jobs home with us, disrupting home life and damaging our personal relationships. Overwork is damaging to our health, too: it disrupts sleep, causes anxiety and depression and can trigger many more serious illnesses. Overworked employees will also suffer a decline in work performance -  yet workers still won’t cut back on their working hours because they don’t want to damage their image and risk being seen as unprofessional. However, despite the doom and gloom, we are getting better at seeing the signs of overwork, and we are beginning to take overworking more seriously by prioritizing our health.

Challenging the stereotype

There is still a stigma around taking time off of work - but we are beginning to take overworking more seriously, and it is the younger generations that are challenging the stereotype. Younger generations today are growing up in a world where it is encouraged to be open about mental health issues, something that is still taboo for older generations who were taught the opposite. Social media platforms like TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram are the soap boxes that Gen Z are using to talk about the damaging effect that overworking has on our mental health. There is a community aspect on these platforms - they are spaces where everyone is encouraged to talk about the culture of overworking and are bringing about positive change.    

Work flexibility is the answer

Aside from increasing pay for workers, recent surveys from LinkedIn show that flexibility and a healthy work-life balance is becoming our top-priority when looking for jobs. This is largely due to the pandemic - many people who had been overworking experienced a genuine break from work for the first time in years. This meant time for themselves, and time with their family. After experiencing the freedom of flexible work there is no wonder that people want more flexibility in their schedules - and businesses will have to meet this demand. Brigad’s model of independent working has always been well ahead of the trend - we have long understood the value of flexibility and in giving more power to the worker. Freelance work means workers can have ultimate control over their schedule, and independence means they can avoid being pressured into working unpaid overtime. If Talents find themselves working overtime, they’re pay will always be adjusted to compensate for the extra hours.

The benefits of work flexibility are immensely positive - reports tell us that three quarters of flexible workers (78%) say that flexible working has a positive impact on their quality of life. People are realizing now more than ever the importance of a healthy work-life balance, and this is quickly erasing the idea of ‘workaholics’ as being something to admire. Workers want independence - the power to control their careers - something that Talents benefit from.

Full time? Part time? Your time.

Workers challenging the culture of overtime are also challenging the traditional 40-hour week - studies tell us that workers are much more productive when they work less hours. Because of this, many people are calling for businesses to lower the number of hours expected for full-time workers, believing that the 40 hour week is outdated. Now - business owners in hospitality might be reading this and thinking: “well, that works for other industries, but in our business we can’t reduce our hours. We need to be open!” And that is true, to an extent. But if workers in the U.K. were to generally reduce their working hours, this would mean more time for leisure. And what do people like to do in their free time? They like to go out, eat and drink. In other words, reducing working hours for the average worker across all industries, the hospitality industry would almost certainly feel a boom in customers. More customers means more profit, more profit means you business owners can factor in more rest time and collaborate with more Talents to take some of the stress off.

The significant boost in customers should mean that struggling businesses will be able to afford to pay more staff - and with Brigad’s flexible workers, businesses owners have the freedom to hire staff as and when they need them. In other words, they can hire more staff when they are experiencing busy periods, and then cut down staff numbers in less busy seasons. And the best way to do this, is planning ahead and offering missions for Talents to pitch in during the busy seasons.

This means more work for Talents in busy seasons, but the extra help means that permanent staff will not need to work extensive overtime. Moreover, a significant increase in custom means that smaller businesses may be able to reduce the hours that they are open and focus on peak times instead. Some companies in the U.K. are even triallinga four-day week - the profit gained from a three day weekend every week surely means that many hospitality businesses could afford one extra closed weekday, providing much needed rest for all staff, including the overworked boss!

The future of overworking

Whilst a four day week might not be happening anytime soon, one thing is clear - people are tired of overworking, and our idea that a workaholic is something to be admired is quickly changing. It’s clear that workers want two things more than anything else: better pay, and flexibility. The freelance model that Talents work gives them both of these things. They control their rate, and they work on their time. The way we go about work is changing, and we believe that the Brigad model is a better model for everyone. Happier workers means better work done, better work means better business. What’s not to like?

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