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Burnt-out Britain: One in three employees working unpaid overtime risking professional burnout

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More than one in three (34%) UK employees are working beyond their contracted hours and doing some form of unpaid overtime each week, risking burnout and exhaustion, according to new research.

More than a fifth (22%) of UK workers said that they do between one and five hours of unpaid overtime a week. This is despite seven in ten (71%) businesses professing to support employee wellbeing. The poll of 1,000 UK-based employees by Claro Wellbeing was published in its Wellbeing Washing – The True Cost report, which seeks to uncover the disparity between organisations’ public displays of support for mental health initiatives and actual support for mental well-being.

Almost 20 million people – 6% of those currently in employment – said they work more than ten hours unpaid overtime in addition to their contracted hours per week.

Previous Claro Wellbeing research found that 22% of employees have experienced burnout – a state of physical and emotional exhaustion caused by work stress – in the last six months and employees regularly working overtime are at increased risk of poor wellbeing.

Money worries are negatively impacting the work performance of two in three (67%) workers, meaning as many as 22 million employees are facing financial-related stresses. These stresses are exacerbated by continuing high levels of inflation.

Employees in the HR & recruitment and agriculture industries are most likely to work unpaid overtime, with 50% of employees surveyed in each of these sectors doing up to five hours of unpaid work a week. This is closely followed by those in marketing, advertising, and sales (45%) and leisure, sport, and tourism (41%).

One in six (16%) employees in the business, consultancy, and management industry work more than ten hours overtime in a week, as do more than one in ten (11%) of those in the social care sector and the creative industries, highlighting that unpaid extra hours are widespread across sectors.

Whilst reasons for working beyond contracted hours differ, more than a third (34%) of 18–25-year-olds say they work overtime to support their future career development.

Young people are most likely to work unpaid overtime, with a quarter of 18–25-year-olds surveyed working more than five hours of unpaid overtime a week.

Many sectors and businesses are also currently finding recruitment difficult, leading current employees to pick up extra tasks beyond their job description. Almost a quarter (24%) of employees say that they are expected to work beyond their contracted hours.

Commenting on the findings, Stacey Lowman, Head of Employee Wellbeing at Claro Wellbeing said: “The number of employees working unpaid overtime each week is concerning and suggests a need for a shift in working culture for many businesses. While businesses are facing tough trading conditions, this pressure cannot simply be passed to their employees without consideration for their wellbeing. Continued overworking is likely to lead to poor wellbeing, burnout, and an increased chance of mental health issues. Employers are likely to see a higher staff turnover rate as employees leave for a better working environment.

“To maintain employee wellbeing, employers must foster a healthy working environment which encourages employees to take breaks, work their contracted hours and maintain a work-life balance. Management should lead by example and workloads should be monitored to ensure that tasks can feasibly be completed in working hours.”

Stacey continued: “A comprehensive benefits offering can also aid improved wellbeing and help employees deal with workplace stresses. Employers are beginning to recognise the need for better mental health support, as this was the most commonly introduced employee benefit in the last year. Similarly, sabbaticals and paid time off are also increasingly popular benefits, as work-life balance continues to climb up the list of priorities for employees. Despite this, it’s clear that there’s much more to be done to prevent burnout.

“Work-related burnout can also be exacerbated by other stresses, such as strain on finances caused by the cost-of-living crisis.

“Claro’s Workplace Today report found that, on average, each employee spends three-and-a-half days a year at work trying to sort out their bills and completing other personal finance tasks which reduces productivity and adds to the workload burden. To support employees, employers could consider introducing a financial wellbeing programme which enables staff to access support at a time that suits them. For example, Claro Wellbeing has recently launched its ‘WhatsApp a Coach’ service, an entire financial wellbeing programme delivered over WhatsApp, including the option of directly contacting a financial coach with any money question.”

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