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Something for nothing? The hidden costs of unpaid overtime

Last year Office for National Statistics (ONS) research suggested that unpaid overtime worked by UK employees was worth about £29 billion per annum. But a recent survey suggests that the true sum could be far higher. Is this work really for free or are employees paying the price?

According to a survey of 2,000 people undertaken by Travelodge, UK employees are putting in unpaid overtime worth £157.2 billion pounds a year. It maintains that the average worker does 9.1 extra unpaid hours every week, valued at £5276.18 every year. One in three workers claimed to do 16 hours of unpaid overtime each week to keep on top of workload.

Meanwhile, new research from Bupa revealed that only 30% of UK employees take a lunch break and more than a third report experiencing pressure from managers to work through their lunch hours.

But the extra time at the desk does not always translate into boosted productivity. Roughly two thirds of workers (66%) claimed work pressures meant they regularly suffered from high stress levels and a third (31%) found it hard to get through a typical week.

Those who skipped lunch said that their concentration and productivity flagged badly later in the afternoon, resulting in a loss of perhaps 40 minutes of their day. This is estimated to cost UK companies £50 million each day in lost productivity. A fifth (21%) relied on drinking five caffeinated drinks a day to get them through, which medical experts warned could lead to insomnia and dehydration.

Research has shown that the 'workaholic' long-hours culture in the UK can lead to reduced productivity and negative impacts on work-life balance and wellbeing. Many employers and employees have found that flexible working can break the detrimental effects of the long-hours culture, improve productivity and employee engagement.

Acas offers training on Performance management including setting realistic expectations for employee workloads. Acas also provides detailed guidance on hours of work and how various working patterns can provide greater employee flexibility in its Advisory handbook - The A-Z of work. Advice on how to maintain a good balance between work and home life can be found in the Advisory booklet - Flexible working and work-life balance .

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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