In Brief

British workers at risk from rising ‘presenteeism’

Employees, already working 30 minutes more per week than a decade ago, are putting in ever more overtime to impress their bosses

A new study has found that office workers in Britain are putting in an extra 17.2 unpaid hours every month, but not necessarily increasing productivity.

Maxis Global Benefits Network, which carried out the research, has warned employers to encourage performance rather than time spent working.

“Unhealthy or stressed employees are a cost in terms of decreased productivity, rapid staff turnover, increased healthcare costs and absenteeism,” it says.

The Daily Telegraph blames the advent of email on smartphones and a booming culture of “presenteeism”.

“Once defined as an employee coming into work when unwell, the term has been broadened to refer to staff who arrive early and/or stay late at the office just to be seen at their desk – as well as those who respond to emails at all hours of the night to show they’re still thinking about work,” it says.

British employees are now working 30 minutes more per week than they did a decade ago, according to the Office for National Statistics. And, last year, The Independent revealed that “86% of firms had reported a rise in presenteeism, with just a quarter of employers saying they had taken action to address the issue”.

The number of sick days taken a year are at a record low, but some have attributed this to increased levels of job insecurity, created first by the recession, and now by Brexit.

“While presenteeism isn’t new, the advent of smartphones and laptops has led to employers increasingly expecting their staff to be contactable at any time, including evenings, weekends and even on holiday,” says the Telegraph.

“Not only does this erode employees’ work-life balance, it promotes a culture in which employees who work longer hours – regardless of whether they are working effectively – are rewarded over those that do not. This disproportionately affects working parents and carers, in particular.”

Numerous studies have shown that far from boosting productivity, longer working hours can actually reduce output and lead to serious long-term health consequences.

Research from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that the average Briton works far longer than their French or German counterparts, yet it takes British workers five days to produce what others achieve in four.

Some firms have taken measures to prevent overwork and promote a better work-life balance. These include small changes such as banning eating lunch at desks, or more drastic reforms such as switching to a four-day working week.

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