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Work Your Proper Hours: A Campaign Against Unpaid Overtime

Chances are, you worked more than eight hours yesterday, and ate lunch at your desk. A new campaign would like you to stop doing that, please (and to stop your boss expecting it). It’s killing you and it’s ruining the economy.

Have you found yourself staying late at the office these days without a commensurate bump in your paycheck? You’re not alone. Unpaid overtime work is widespread.

But in the U.K., a labor group is fighting the phenomenon with a holiday of sorts: Work Your Proper Hours Day.

According to the Trades Union Congress, a federation of labor unions, more than 5.2 million U.K. employees worked 1,968 million unpaid overtime hours last year. If all these employees did all their overtime work at the beginning of the year, they would essentially work for free until February 24. And so the TUC has selected that date for its 10th annual Work Your Proper Hours Day. Employees are encouraged to observe the day by showing up to work on time (not before!), taking a full lunch break, and leaving on time.

It’s a lighthearted campaign, but unpaid overtime is not without real costs. In a 2010 study, published in the European Heart Journal, working three or more hours longer than a 7-hour workday corresponded with a 60% increase in heart-related problems. Overworked employees have also been shown to be less productive and more likely to make mistakes.

And then there are the economic effects. The more work companies squeeze out of people in unpaid overtime, the fewer new employees they have to hire. The TUC estimates that unpaid overtime in the U.K. was equivalent to 1 million full-time jobs. And because that work is unpaid, the state loses out on that tax revenue, too.

Up-to-date data on unpaid overtime in the U.S. is scarce, but it seems to be plenty common, at least if the lawsuits are any indication. Groupon, Oracle, and Bank of America are just a few of the companies facing class-action lawsuits over unpaid overtime in recent years. And then, of course, there’s Lady Gaga’s personal assistant.

In Australia, a country with a notorious culture of long work hours, they have a similar initiative called Go Home on Time Day. Perhaps we need a version for the U.S. Or maybe we should just work our proper hours all the time.

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  • Mandarine1211

    Easier said than done.
    What are actionable ways to make bosses feel like they are getting the same value, and employees to feel they aren't risking their job by taking breaks and leaving after 8 hours?
    A culture like here in North America that so strongly values work, a Puritan value, with so few vacation days makes it easier to keep working than to learn how to relax. Solution? Take a sabbatical every 2-3 years.

  • Agaponzie

    Its important to take breaks to recharge, but if there is something your passionate about, its worthwhile working hard toward.  The key is passionate.  Too often people squander away their lives working a job they hate to make others rich.  Its important to ask yourself why you are living the way you do, and make a choice in the right direction:

  • Zanna Joyce

    It seems the difference is in whether the employee is wanting to be all charged up and working mad hours (as in an entrepreneurial or creative field), or whether they are forced to do some relatively boring and low return job for no pay, maybe because the entrepreneurial types at the top cannot understand why they would not love to do so! 

    Another worker left behind is the contract or part time worker.  While in manufacturing, the concept of just in time inventory delivery is well understood, part time workers are still seen as being less committed to their jobs and therefore undeserving of even basic benefits, even though it is they who allow for efficient business or organizational operations, by being there when needed.  A complete rethinking of part time workers is in order.

  • viCOvin

    It is also needed to learn to enjoy spare time. For some people this is soooo hard that "always doing somethig" (e.g. working) it is salvation because they loose themselves not doing something... just being.
    We need to learn to be. 
    It looks like an Calvin Klien add!

  • Quinnbarry

    Balance is needed, but what does balance mean? In the creative fields there are many young workers who cannot wait to work monstrous overtime, because what it can do for their careers is more important than the money. For a few lucky ones, this gives them the chance to do the GREAT work. It advances their knowledge and gives them experience that their peers cannot match. This is most certainly not unpaid work.

    For many others, its just a part of the grind and the extra hours and work are not doing anything for their future career, beyond the 'experience' of more hours. For them it is not a good deal.

    I think the goal is to understand what is actually happening and make you peace with whatever you decide. No matter what you choose, their is an upside and a downside. Be honest with what you need, want and value. 

  • The TimeMan

    This article reminds me of the old joke told by LIlly Tomlin, "If you win the rat race, you're still a rat."
    Make sure the race is worth being in before you try to win it. 

    I think we all need some high quality "goof off" time in our lives or we'll burn out. Pushing ourselves and and working long hours days after day without a break is not sustainable for most people. We do ourselves and our long-term work life a favor if we don't overdo it for long periods of time. 
    I'm a time management consultant and I think that practicing good time management includes finding "do nothing" time when you take a break from clocks and schedules.

  • whattheruck

    So, does this apply to doctors and nurses?  Personally I want my wife's Ob/Gyn ready to go regardless of the her 'hours'. 

  • workforself

    According to this most entrepreneurs and freelancers will die in the next 34 hours of massive heart failure.

    What about be unpaid client hours entrepreneurs in some sort of service or creative field? You can't issue an overage or change order for everything, and contingencies are trickier these days although they are almost always needed.

    To dc's point, it has become the price of succeeding.

  • David Kaiser

    I read that for the most part, we are only capable of doing about 7 hours of work over the long haul. We may spend more time in the chair, but we are less productive, and spend more time, in place, taking care of other stuff and resting in place, so you may be there 12 hours...but it's still just 12 hours of work, at a much higher cost. I think an 8 hour day, or better yet, a focus on results-only, would be great for productivity and morale.

    David Kaiser, PhD
    Executive Coach & CEO

  • Jen Bokoff

    Really like this and think it would be interesting to learn more about the legality of working unpaid overtime, especially in the United States. I think a lot of people are very much taken advantage of because they are salaried.

  • Pearl Esterhazy

    I think there may be a few cases on the other side of the argument - employers who feel taken advantage of for just the opposite reason - salaried employees who come and go as they please and rarely actually put in the 40 hours that are expected.

  • Doug Brockway

    Like DC, I think that this is a noble that we do however need to keep shouting from the rooftops. Occupational stress and burnout rates are at alarming levels...and increasing. The traditional model of work is not sustainable for people and as you mention productivity takes a hit. The costs to society of a burned out work sector are vast. From skyrocketing health care costs to lost productivity to negative impacts on family, it is time for a massive re-think of how we work.

    Globally, a new perspective seems to be emerging of what it takes to be successful and thrive as individuals and society:

    Awesome article Andrew!

  • Lilliwaup

    So last century, there is a job classification for this, it is called non-exempt worker. Instead focus on changing the workplace by creative management of time. Workplace Empowerment zones where you can work IF you must be in the office, otherwise you work at home. Free your brain!

  • david carlson

    Noble and all, but in private sector if you have a goal of getting to the top of the food chain, you will work the hours.  

  • JohnThorpe

    if only people gave their children such dedication, rather than just careers and cash.