Is your overtime undervalued?

DK workplace overtime feat 090306
 Photo: DK Stock

IT’S been calculated that last year a whopping five million people in the UK worked, on average, an extra seven hours and 24 minutes a week, without getting paid for it.

While most of us are paid for working 35 hours a week, one in five UK employees regularly work more than 48 hours a week, without any extra pay.

Those extra hours saved employers £23 billion in salary costs last year. And you could bet money on the fact that a sizeable percentage of these figures involve those working in the travel industry.

Two years ago, Seyi Clement, former negotiations officer for the Transport Salaried Staff ’s Association, told Travel Weekly many travel agents were so stressed out by the long hours and unpaid overtime they felt obliged to do, they were having to take prescription drugs to cope.

Clement went on to say the travel industry has more people taking Prozac than any other industry he had worked in.

In fact, it reported there is more long-term depression and sickness found in the trade than there is in construction, on the railways, in freight companies or the docks.

The TSSA further concluded that unpaid overtime had become endemic, with staff being expected to do training courses in their own time, not take a lunch break and stay at their desks well after their contractual hours.

Not much has changed in the past two years. TSSA spokeswoman Carmel McHenry said: “There is still an expectation in the travel industry, especially in shops, that if you work nine to five, you should always come in 20 minutes early to set up for the day. Similarly, at the end of the day, you always seem to be expected to hang around after your contractual hours.

“That may not be too bad to anyone who earns a good salary, but don’t forget we are talking a low-paid sector here, predominantly staffed by women who have many things to juggle as well as their job.”

She added: “Our helpdesk reports many calls from staff saying they are going to be disciplined because they haven’t been able to come in early, go home late or work through their lunch hour.

“A high percentage of agents do unpaid overtime three to four times a week.”

The TUC has identified five types of people who work late. Which one are you?

1. The stay-late sheep

Do you stay behind because everyone else seems to be doing so? Are you eating lunch at your desk while you deal with your packed in-box because you haven’t seen another member of staff go our for their lunch hour in days?

You are falling victim to presenteeism, when managers judge staff by the hours they put in, rather than what they have achieved in those hours.

Instead, agree with colleagues you will all take your lunch hour and leave work at the same time. Ensure your boss knows that when there is an emergency, you will be there, but don’t hang around every night just in case.

2. The beast of burden

The problem of not having enough hours in the day often affects junior staff who do not have a say over how and when they work. It also affects those who do specialist roles that can’t be done by others – so when that person goes on holiday, the work just piles up.

Try to work out why this is happening. Is it just you or the whole department? Is it because the manager won’t hire enough staff, or are you not organising your time efficiently? Try to put a case forward to your boss about hiring temps, ask about flexible hours, or improve your own time management.

3. Victims of the time-bandit

You sit chatting with colleagues because the boss has nothing for you to do and then at 5pm you are asked to stay late because there’s a rush job on.

You later find out your boss has been sitting on the assignment since last week.

You are working for a timebandit boss who has been promoted because they are good at their job (but they aren’t so good at managing people).

The answer? Don’t tackle it while being asked to stay until 10pm on a Friday. Wait until the crisis is over and suggest a nonthreatening option, such as a working party to improve how people use their time.

4. Chaos theorists

You are always the last to leave but you are not trying to curry favour, you just never seem to finish your work by the end of the day – even when you didn’t have that much of it in the first place.

If this is you, look long and hard at your day. Doing research on the web, then getting sidetracked, can use up hours of your day, as can lengthy phone calls where communication would have been more efficient via e-mail.

Keep a day diary and see how much of your working day you are actually spending on real work. You might be surprised.

5. Good old workaholics

If you enjoy the unpaid late hours you do, far be it for us to stop you. But ask yourself why you do it. Just don’t expect everyone else to do likewise.

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