Since the Industrial Revolution, it has been possible for the majority of industries to work a longer day, and all year-round due to artificial lighting. During the 20th century, working hours declined dramatically due to rising wages, trade unions and new legislation – dropping to around 40 hours after World War II.

Data released by OECD reveals that the United Kingdom are one of the lesser working countries compared to the rest of the world – at 1669 hours per year – around 32 hrs per week. However this report does not take into account unpaid overtime.

Figures released by the Office of National Statistics show that 25% of employees work between 40-49 hours per week. 33% work between 50-59 hours per week and 22% work between 60 hours and over. On average, it was found that the working day in the UK has increased to 43 hours per week; 11 hours more than the OECD world comparison suggests.

Working extra hours has become ingrained into the British work-culture. Research from ILM has found that a staggering 94% of UK workers work over and above their contracted hours each week, with 65% of those saying that they feel obliged to work extra hours.

This pressure to work out with contractual hours also extends to annual leave. The UK Government stipulate that full-time employees must receive 5.6 weeks holiday per year. This is a more generous allowance compared to some of our European counterparts. However, only 59% of employees have taken all holiday entitlement.

Charles Elvin, Chief Executive of ILM says, “Of course, all organisations face busy periods when employees will feel obliged to work beyond their contractual hours. But excessive hours are not sustainable – there are only so many times you can burn the midnight oil before your performance, decision making and well being begin to suffer.” Vast amounts of research has shown that long working hours have a direct impact on health. Those with high job strain are reported to smoke and drink more, and are found to be less physically active.

Is flexible working the way forward?

Findings from Timewise suggest that around 50% of the UK’s working population want flexible working hours; stating that caring for children, caring for a sick or elderly parent, and wanting a greater work-life balance were all reasons for this. Yet, only 6% of jobs offer flexible working.

The most flexible sector in the UK is Health and Social Care (20%), followed by Education and Training (13%). The least flexible sectors are IT, Management, Marketing and Engineering (all 2%). The Administrative, PA and Secretarial industry is one of the mid-sectors in these findings at 6%.

It has been found that flexible working has a profound effect on health. Blood pressure, mental health and sleep patterns are all said to improve in employees that choose their own working hours.

Furthermore, according to Timewise, flexible working not only benefits the employee but also promotes growth for businesses. This allows them to adjust workflow to the needs of the business, getting the best out of their workforce. It has also been found to improve employee retention and relations.

Overall, flexible working carries many proven benefits for both the employee and the employer. However, the workplace still has quantum leaps to accepting such a model.