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Long hours Working – not only a problem with some Members of Parliament

We have seen much controversy about MPs having more than one job. It has been reported that some have been working many more hours on top of their job in parliament.

We have been shown certain individuals who seem to work so many additional hours that they could be employed full time in the additional occupation.

This has gone to the extent for one MP showing that they had two additional jobs of 30 hours a week i.e., assuming an MP works around a standard 40 hours average then this is more than 14 hours a day 7 days every week in total!  Not all MPs should be tarred with the same brush, undoubtedly there are many of integrity. Some Members have expressed their disbelief that their colleagues could have the time for any additional work with their constituency labours easily taking up all their available working hours - in some cases with the viewpoint that it is really a full-time vocation and not simply a job. 

Without further comment I have been drawn to writing about the problems regarding effectiveness and productivity of employees who put in excessive hours at work each week! 

Impact on Productivity 

In the Review of Modern Working Practices Matthew Taylor not only suggested that “Working longer hours increases the risk of occupational illness (such as stress and mental health problems)” but also agreed that “the duration of work is an important factor in the indicators of quality of work 

 Looking at the trends of GDP per hour worked for major countries compared with the annual hours of work there is certainly a suggestion that more hours worked per employee in the year delivers poorer productivity. 

This is borne out in other research by J. Nevison whose white paper brings together data to demonstrate that employee productivity will not increase linearly with extended working hours. In fact, it shows that little productive work takes place over and above 50 hours per week. It also examines the cumulative effect showing that productive hours drop by ten hours when the number of long workweeks increases from four to 12. 

Chart, line chart

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Study A shows productive hours per week when a person is long term overworked. 
Study B shows the effect after only 4 weeks of long hours Study C and Study D were both recorded after a single of overwork. The yellow line shows machine hours and effectively full productive hours.

Their work suggests that worldwide long hours working led to the death of 745,000 people in a single year, and this was before the perfect storm of the pandemic leading to labour shortages and further pressures to work longer.  

Previously much research has also shown that, alongside the increased proclivity of heart and stroke problems, other health risks from working excessive hours may include  

  • general fatigue  
  • back injuries 
  • increased blood pressure 
  • an escalation in mental health issues 
  • in women, a reduction in birth weights of their children  
  • higher alcohol consumption  
  • higher suicide rates 

These health problems are not only of great importance to the individual they also may lead to an increase in absenteeism. If these absences need covering, then they may cause additional overtime to be required from others……making the problem self-perpetuating 

Impact on Safety 

General fatigue is seen as a health risk in its own right above, but this can not only lead to further health risks but also an increased risk in accidents and problems with safety at work.

It should be noted that it is not only the excessive hours that can lead to fatigue, but also poorly designed shift patterns and care must be taken regarding working at unsocial times, shift lengths, rest periods, rotational direction, and other aspects of shift design, such as notice of change. 

The Health and Safety executive (HSE) explain that fatigue can lead to, 

  • slower reactions  
  • reduced ability to process information 
  • memory lapses 
  • absent-mindedness 
  • decreased awareness 
  • lack of attention 
  • underestimation of risk 
  • reduced coordination etc.  

It notes that fatigue can be the cause of major accidents e.g., Herald of Free Enterprise, Chernobyl, Texas City, Clapham Junction, Challenger and Exxon Valdez, as well as it being implicated in 20% of accidents on major roads costing the UK £115 - £240 million per year in terms of work accidents alone. 

What can be done? 

Plan work patterns and employment levels using as much information as is available.

There is often a temptation to strip the number of employees to the bone to save money, but this may be a false economy. Work with employees, representatives, and unions to engage the correct number of people in any shift pattern taking account of absence sickness and holidays. Analysis may even show, irrespective of other benefits of reducing excessive working hours, that this may even be a cheaper option especially where higher overtime rates are prevalent. Monitor and understand reasons for absence and whether you can address them not just fill them. When do they occur, who is absent, what issues are caused by the absence e.g., could multiskilling prevent additional hours requirement? Is absence repeated by specific individuals, for what reasons – they may or may not be genuine? Does it occur at specific times such as around time planned off? Ensure that holiday time is considered, if holiday is taken evenly then with average holiday entitlements an additional person is required for approximately every 9 employees, depending on contractual arrangements. However, holiday is not normally taken evenly! Is there anything that can be done to ensure that this is planned to fit not only with workforce requirements in mind but also those of the business e.g., a blanket rule of a number of people allowed off may not be suitable if there is a period of slack – encouraging employees to take time off when the business doesn’t need them may at times help both parties 

Ensure the shift patterns match the weekly demand

If analysis shows that there are different requirements for people to be at work at different times, then try and plan for them. A simple example may be where you currently have five, eight-hour shifts, Monday to Friday. However, Monday, for this example, was generally the busiest day of the week, often required extended working through overtime, with a lighter requirement the rest of the week. The response should be to build a shift pattern with a 10- hour Monday reciprocally 7½ hour shifts the rest of the week. It may be that it is possible to increase the hourly rate slightly to offset any employee losses from this overtime reduction – all then become winners as the employee is at work fewer hours and the business may well maintain a better productivity level.  

Understand longer term peaks and troughs and plan how you will deal with them

Obviously, there may be tactics to flatten any peaks through stock control, pre making etc. but if not then there are also a multitude of working arrangements that can allow attendance to better match business demands whether moving staff between departments, overtime, banked hours or use of temporary workers but if these peaks are a known entity forward planning can help reduce the need for excessive working from individuals – ensure that skills are spread wide enough to prevent the reliance on a few individuals. 

Ensure a spread of hours across available employees

No matter how business demand is met problems may be reduced through maintaining a good record of hours worked by everyone. This would include monitoring all types of hours, normal hours and overtime/banks and ensuring that there is a good balance of hours – ideally across all relevant employees. Workforce Management Systems ensure that planners are able to look at attendance demand and can rank employees based on a variety of criteria, such as cost (labour grade), attendance information, bank levels or overtime usage to ensure fairness whilst making sure that people are in the right place at the time. 

To learn more about how Crown Workforce Management can help your organisation get in touch with our team today!


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