Bad for your health: What can be done about Britain’s long hours’ culture?

Guest Blog from Working Families

Recent research by Working Families shows that parents are having to work longer than
their contracted hours on a regular basis¹, with fathers putting in the longest hours.  This is despite fathers wanting to play a greater part in their children’s lives², by for example dropping them off at school, and despite successive governments introducing more family friendly policies such as Shared Parental Leave (SPL) and the right to request flexible working for all, ensuring that parents and those without children have the same flexible working opportunities.

Other research by scientists at University College London, who conducted the largest study ever commissioned on the issue of stress and long hours culture, found that those who worked more than 55 hours a week have a 33% increased risk of stroke compared to those who work a 35-40 hour week, as well as a 13% risk of coronary heart disease³.

So a toxic combination of parents feeling stretched and stressed mixed with the physical demonstration of overwork is a clear demonstration that a long hours working culture is harming the nation’s health.

Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 22.52.35So what can be done about it – what can we do as employees and employers to stop this madness? Fortunately, there are some employers who are leading the way in showing how flexible working can be made to work for both employees and employers.  Deloitte, the professional services company, has introduced their Time Out initiative, which allows employees to take an additional four week block of leave each year, helping employees to achieve a better balance between their careers and other commitments.  As Emma Codd, a Deloitte HR manager commented, “Our people say they love the policy”.

American Express, the banking and financial services company, has policies which encourage managers to initiate flexible working conversations with their employees, to ensure that they have the working hours which are right for their particular situation, including promoting home working along with providing technology to facilitate this.

At the employee end of the spectrum, there are high profile standard bearers for flexible working such as Thomasina Myers, co-founder of the Mexican food chain Wahaca, who works 3-4 days a week, and Nicola Mendelsohn of Karmarama, the TV company which makes the popular TV drama Last Tango in Halifax.  But there are also less well known flexible working role models, in organisations as diverse as financial institutions and government agencies.  Simon, who works part-time for a government agency in Scotland, says that working three days a week means he has to be super-efficient, but because he works reduced hours, he doesn’t get stressed.  And Lee, a mother of two working for an investment bank, is ambitiously keen to keep climbing the corporate ladder and feels able to do so in her working environment despite working flexibly.

Working Families, the leading work life balance organisation, campaigns for better work life balance, and is running National Work Life Week from 21-15 September 2015, which aims to highlight the difficulties faced by employees as they struggle with finding the balance that’s right for them.

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 23.45.09And during that week, a day has been designated as Go Home on Time Day, on Wednesday 23 September, a day when workers are encouraged to leave work on time rather than stay late, and demonstrating that productive work can and should be achieved within working hours, and that the free time spent out of office hours benefits the employee’s health and wellbeing and ultimately the employer, whose workers are healthier and more productive.

So it doesn’t have to be this way and on a positive note, more and more companies are recognising that they will not achieve higher levels of productivity by promoting long hours’ culture, in fact, quite the opposite.

To find out more about Working Families’ National Work Life Week, visit www.workingfamilies.org.uk/campaigns/national-work-life-week-2015/ and for Go Home on Time Day UK visit www.gohomeontimeday.com


¹Modern Families Index, 2015
²Modern Families Index, 2015
³http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/aug/20/working-longer-hours-increases-stroke-risk
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About Julia Manning

Julia Manning is a social entrepreneur, writer, campaigner and commentator. She is based in London and is the founder and Chief Executive of 2020health, an independent, social enterprise Think Tank whose aim is to Make Health Personal. Through networking, technology, research, relationships and campaigning 2020health has influenced opinion and action in fields as diverse as bioethics, alcohol, emerging technologies, fraud, education, consumer technology and vaccination. Julia studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991. Her career has included being a visiting lecturer at City University, a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital, working with south London Primary Care Trusts and as a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. She specialised in diabetes (University of Warwick Certificate in Diabetic Care) and founded Julia Manning Eyecare in 2004, a home and prison visiting practice for people with mental and physical disabilities using the latest digital technology, which she sold to Healthcall (now part of Specsavers) in 2009. Experiences of working in the NHS, contributing to policy development, raising two children in the inner-city and standing in the General Election in Bristol in 2005 led to Julia forming 2020health at the end of 2006. Julia is a regular guest on TV and radio shows such as BBC News, ITV’s Daybreak/ GMB, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions, BBC Radio, LBC and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week. She is mum to a rugby-mad son, a daughter passionate about Shakespeare, and wife of a comprehensive school assistant head-teacher. She loves gardening, ballet, Zimbabwe, her Westies Skye and Angus, is an honorary research associate at UCL and a Fellow of the RSA.
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One Response to Bad for your health: What can be done about Britain’s long hours’ culture?

  1. Pingback: Bad for your health: What can be done about Britain’s long hours’ culture? « Health and Medical News and Resources

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