Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

2 minute read

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.

loading