Why long hours culture is becoming a myth

A new report dispels the myth that the UK has a ‘long-hours’ culture, instead it says that a move to part-time working is shortening our working week.

Definition of 'part-time' in dictionary


A new research report, Working Hours in the Recession, published recently by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) says that talk of the UK’s ‘long-hours culture’ is misleading, suggesting that a ‘mixed-hours culture’ is a more accurate description.

According to the report, in spring 2010 there were as many people in the UK working between 16 and 30 hours per week as were working 45 hours or more per week.

Loss of full time jobs

The shift towards a shorter working week is a direct result of the loss of nearly one million full-time jobs with a move towards part-time working. All this has resulted in a drop of almost 10% in the number of UK men working more than 45 hours per week whilst the numbers of those in full-time employment has fallen by 910,000 and those in part-time jobs has grown by 330,000, 4.4%.

Yet the report reveals that this shift is not necessarily a shift of choice for many employees. Taking a cut in hours has been the difference between surviving the recession and adding to the jobless count.

The results has been a net fall of 32.7 million (3.5%) in the number of hours worked each week in the UK.

In spring 2010 there were 440,000 fewer men working more than 45 hours per week than two years earlier (a net reduction of 9.4%). Male employees account for the bulk of the fall – the number working more than 45 hours has dropped by 11%. Interestingly and by contrast, there has been no net change in the number of women working more than 45 hours per week, with a small fall in female employees working long hours exactly offset by an increase in the number of self-employed women working long hours. For both men and women the trough in long hours working was reached in summer 2009, since when the number working more than 45 hours per week has started to rise.

And in the final quarter of 2009 (the latest period for which comparable Eurostat figures are available) only four EU countries, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden, had shorter average working weeks than the UK.

Dr John Philpott, chief economic adviser for the CIPD says:  “A marked shift to shorter working hours has been one of the key characteristics of the recession. But signs of an increase in long-hours working since the trough in hours in summer 2009 suggest that the fall in working time during the jobs downturn was a forced detox for Britain’s workaholics, most of whom will be eager to start putting in the hours again once the economic recovery gathers steam. HR managers mindful of the importance of a sensible work-life balance will need to determine whether a return to long hours working is the best outcome for staff or the organisations that employ them.”

So is a steady creep back to longer working hours inevitable?

Dr Michael Dickmann, director of the MSc in International HRM programme at the Cranfield School of Management told workingmums.co.uk that there will be a range of trends: “I think there will actually be a steady creep back to longer working hours. Incomes may be under pressure given all the austerity measures from the government and what we may see are employees actually trying to work more.”
Dickmann believes that whilst employees have been happy to ride out the recession on reduced incomes they will be looking to claw back their salaries and that means taking back their hours that were lost when the downturn hit. But there is another important point to note says
Dickmann and that is the part that the younger generation and their desires play on working hours: “The younger generation want a better work/life balance and this may constitute a new trend in working hours.” It’s a point that many agree with. A lot of commentators say that young entrants into the jobs market have no intention of ever working Monday-Friday, nine to five.
Some academics say that Generation Y, or those born between the early 1980s and 2000 have a natural inclination towards the digital technology and watch in horror as their parents work punishing hours. An article in the Guardian newspaper says that one such study shows that 58% of Generation Y wants to spend 30% to 70% of their time working from home whilst more than half want a flexible working arrangement.
All this may mean that the new generation that is coming through will actually call the shots on working hours but for now it seems as though whilst there has been a cut in total working hours this has sadly not been through choice but as a direct result of the economic environment.

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