More time? Not if it means less cash

2004

Contrary to popular belief, the overwhelming majority of people in Britain would not be willing to work fewer hours in return for lower pay, according to a new survey.

A Populus poll of 1,000 adults for The Times newspaper has found that only one in five (22 per cent) would be prepared to work fewer hours for less money, with more than three-quarters (78 per cent) saying they were not.

The figures are in marked contrast to a survey carried out in September by Aon Consulting which found that almost nine out of ten Britons were keen on the idea of trading part of their salary for more benefits, particularly greater time off.

The Aon research suggested that almost six out of ten would be prepared to forgo some of their pay if they could have between three and six months unpaid leave, while being able to take a career break of more than six months was almost as popular a choice.

The Times found that marginally more professionals and managers - 27 per cent - said they would trade less money for more free time, while the figure for unskilled manual labourers was only 19 per cent.

Half of those surveyed said they simply could not afford to cut back on their amount of time they spent working, one in three (29 per cent) said they found their job rewarding and one in seven (14 per cent) per cent did not want to cut back on the things they enjoyed.

But 35 per cent of professionals said that they would not scale back because they liked their jobs compared to only a quarter (24 per cent) of unskilled manual workers. Only four out of 10 professionals said that they could not afford to work less.

The Times survey also identified a regional divide, with a third of people in the North willing to cut back on their working hours compared with fewer than one in five in South East and the Midlands.

Last summer, a report by The Work Foundation identified 2.4 million "workophiles" in Britain who prefer being at work to being at home. It estimated that one in five people earning £60,000 work more than 60 hours a week and almost seven out of 10 of those earning between £46,000 and £51,000 work up to 60 hours a week.

But for about 400,000 workers, life is less rosy. These "wage slaves" earn less than £16,000 for working more than 60 hours a week, and four out of ten fear of losing their job if they do not put in such long hours.

In total, the Work Foundation found that two-thirds of the population are working more than 35 hours a week and more than a third (36 per cent) work more than 40 hours a week.

According to The Times, their poll's findings are likely to surprise politicians who have assumed that people would welcome the chance of more leisure time. It will also provide useful ammunition for the government's continuing opposition to the European working time directive which would impose a maximum 48 hour working week.