Something for nothing?

Jan 15 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Forget all the talk about flexible working and work-life balance. A new poll suggests that the scourge of excessive working hours is as bad as ever and that employers across the globe are getting something for nothing from their workforces.

The online poll carried out by recruitment consultancy Robert Walters found that a third of employees globally are expected to work more than 10 unpaid hours overtime per week.

The poll surveyed almost 4,000 people globally and asked respondents “on average, how many non-paid hours overtime per week does your company expect you to work?”

A third said that they are expected to work 10 or more hours a week without extra pay. A further half (48 per cent) are expected to work between 3 and 8 hours without being paid for their extra efforts. Only twenty per cent said that they put in two hours or less non-paid overtime.

Although it is no surprise that the largest numbers of employees expected to work an extra 10 hours a week were in Japan (48 per cent), Hong Kong (47 per cent) and Singapore (44 per cent), the fact that the figure for France is 41 per cent will certainly raise eyebrows. Moreover, only seven per cent of French respondents said that they worked an additional two hours or less.

Antoine Morgaut, Director of Robert Walters Paris, said that these figures were an unforseen result of the French 35 hour working week legislation.

“White collar workers are still working extra non-paid hours,” she said. “The reason is that they are legally partly excluded from the benefits of the 35 hour legislation, and they have to compensate the sudden loss of work production within their teams.

“It pinpoints a mentality gap, according to which, in the UK work done has to be paid. In France, people are doing more for less money, only motivated by career progression, and/or fear of unemployment. By implementing the 35 hour legislation the government wanted to limit that, however it looks like a law does not change minds that easily.”

In comparison, 32 per cent of UK respondents said they were expected to work at least work an extra 10 hours and nearly a quarter (21 per cent) contributed an additional two hours or less.

Despite its reputation for long hours, the USA actually had the greatest proportion of those putting in less than two hours unpaid overtime at 29 per cent. A further third of Americans (32 per cent) are expected to work between 3 and 8 additional hours, leaving 39 per cent putting in ten or more.

Gerry Chesterman, Robert Walters’ UK Regional Director pointed out that this means that employers are getting an extra day and a half out of a third of their staff for nothing, something he put down to “employee’s ambition and commitment in today’s working environment.”

“The days of 9-5 for modern, ambitious professionals have long since gone,” he added.

Kevin Gibson, General Manager of Robert Walters Tokyo was not surprised by the figures.

“It is no surprise that Japanese respondents have the highest acceptance of non paid over time. This is a result of a number of specific aspects of the Japanese work culture that all contribute to this phenomenon in different ways.

"In many cases work groups interact a great deal socially and feel responsible for each others work and nobody feels comfortable leaving work until the group task is completed. In some firms many employees are also discouraged from taking holidays. In addition to this, in many traditional firms it is frowned upon to leave before your senior has left.”