Imagine this; your boss calls a company meeting to tell you that next year, you won’t be paid until mid-February. Most people would be outraged. Yet this is the amount of unpaid overtime the average UK employee works each year, according to the TUC. Not only do Brits work longer hours than any other country in Europe, they also take the shortest lunch breaks and have the fewest public holidays.
Enough. All those extra hours haven’t stopped Britain from having the lowest productivity of the G7. Working excessively long hours is unproductive and, in the case of most people who clock up over 48 hours, illegal.
So before you spend yet another evening chained to your desk, here’s five reasons to think twice:
1) It’s Really, Really Bad for You
If you’re regularly working late, you’re probably not getting enough sleep, which will impair your brain activity, depress your mood and damage your decision-making process. You’re also increasing your risk of heart disease and strokes. Plus, cutting away at your leisure time doesn’t just put a strain on your relationships with friends and family – it negatively affects your mental health. A 2013 study found out that to achieve optimum happiness people should spend seven (waking) hours each day relaxing.
Put effort into maintaining a healthy lifestyle alongside your work-life and prioritize your overall well being. Take time away from your desk to eat full, nutritious breakfasts and lunches. Go to the gym in your lunch hour or after work. Turn down taking on yet another project to give precedence to time with your loved ones. Becoming happier and healthier will boost all aspects of your life; including your job satisfaction.
2) It Shows a Lack of Skills
How many candidates in job interviews wax lyrical about their superb “organisational and time management skills”? The ugly truth is that if you’re taking more than your contracted hours to complete your work tasks then you aren’t fully utilizing either of those skills. Employers want workers who can manage themselves effectively – and that means being able to prioritize, and to delegate when appropriate.
Start each day writing a To-Do list of tasks to be completed. Rank these from the most to least pressing, and work on them in that order. Any work you don’t have time to complete will be non-urgent and can be left for another day. If your manager is piling more tasks on you than you can cope with, don’t let yourself get buried under. Have a discussion with them about which projects should be your immediate focus. For all other assignments, give them a clear and realistic deadline on when you can complete it. As long as you communicate, your boss won’t think you’re slacking off. Incidentally, if you follow these tips and still find yourself with more urgent tasks than can be completed in a normal work day, speak to your boss about reassigning some of your workload or look into hiring extra staff.
3) It Makes You Bad at Your Job
Study after study shows that taking breaks produces far better workers. The reason is simple – our brains experience fatigue just like the rest of our body. So if you’re regularly skipping lunch or working ten hours straight every day you won’t be producing the highest quality of work you’re capable of. Furthermore, a study by The Economist discovered a negative correlation between productivity and working hours – suggesting that those who work less hours actually get more work done.
Learn to recognize when your body is telling you it needs a break. If you find yourself dragging over a task that you normally speed through, then put it down and take five minutes to yourself. Always take your lunch hour, and take it away from your desk, to put your mind off work and give your brain a chance to reset. Make post-work plans, even if it’s as simple as going to a spin class or cooking dinner with your partner. Not only will this force you out of the office by a certain time, it’ll also provide you with a reasonable excuse should your boss or colleague ask you to do something time-consuming late in the day.
4) It Creates Unrealistic Expectations
Once your boss is used to a 24-hour turnaround on any task s/he sets you it becomes incredibly difficult to backtrack without appearing to be slacking off. And no matter how empathetic your manager is, the only person who really knows when you’re doing too much is yourself.
Be upfront about the amount of work you can take on, both when you start a job and during your tenure at a company as your role and abilities evolve. Such candid communication is likely to result in managers setting realistic workloads and targets. If you find you cannot complete your expected workload within your set hours, then approach your manager and ask for a meeting to discuss ways you could streamline or simplify your workload. They’ll either help you brainstorm some ideas to improve your efficiency or realize they’re allocating too much work to you. If the problem is that your workload can fluctuate significantly from day to day, ask about implementing some form of flextime so you don’t burn out.
5) It Doesn’t Get You Promoted
An oft-repeated rule is that those who wish to get ahead should arrive at the workplace before their boss and leave only after they depart. Yet when bosses are actually asked about their criteria for promotion, working long hours doesn’t even make the final list. Of course being enthusiastic and a hard-worker is likely to get you far, but you can show these attributes by throwing yourself into every given task and maintaining a positive attitude, not by falling asleep at your desk at 7am.
If you want to be rewarded for your work, you need to demonstrate to your boss how you can add value to the company. Companies love employees who come up with innovative ideas, show initiative, and give each project 100%. These are the people they want to promote, not those who have become ill, miserable and unproductive from putting in excessive hours!
Beth Leslie writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, the UK’s leading graduate recruitment firm which specializes in finding candidates their dream internship. To hire graduates or browse their graduate jobs London, head to their website.