The Long Working Hours Culture: Research over the Last Four Years Suggests UK Managers Are Paying a High Price for Adapting to Change. but Are Continental European Executives under Similar Strain?

Article excerpt

Since 1997 we have been researching the changes that have been taking place in UK business organisations and assessing the implications of these changes on the nature of managerial work and the tensions between the working and non-working lives of managers (Worrall and Cooper, 2001). We have identified that in any one year most managers will be confronted with organisational change. In 1999, seven out of ten managers had direct experience of organisational change within that year and in some sectors the rate had reached over 90 per cent.

We will describe some of the structural changes we have identified in our four year research programme but we will focus in particular on the impact of organisational change on the hours that managers now feel compelled to work and on the impact that these long working hours are having on managers' non-working lives (Worrall and Cooper, 1999).

We have made five important assumptions to locate our study of the impact of long working hours in the context of recent economic and organisational change. Firstly, organisations exist in a complex relationship with their operating environment and, in recent years, the environment has become far more competitive. The technology base which mediates the relationship between an organisation and its environment has also become more dynamic and this has affected both the pace at which organisations have had to change and the scale of that change. Second, the pressure to drive down costs to retain competitiveness through improved productivity has been the main driving force of the last ten years and this has forced many companies radically to restructure. Third, restructuring has had a major impact not only on the formal contracts of managers but also on their psychological contract with their organisations. Fourth, organisational change has caused managers to reinterpret their relationship with their organisation which has, in turn, resulted in managers changing their behavioural patterns--the hours that managers work being but one dimension of this change in behaviour. Finally, these changes impact upon managers' non-working lives and we will explore in detail these 'externalities' of organisational change.

The rest of this paper presents the evidence we have collected in the last four years to describe the impact of this chain of logic on UK managers and how this dynamic has triggered the creation of the new concepts in organisational analysis. These concepts include 'presenteeism' (where managers make themselves conspicuously present often as if in fear of redundancy), 'withdrawal' (where managers are present in body but not in mind) and the view of 'managers as mercenaries' (which is indicative of the breakdown of existing employer-employee relationships based on a sense of mutual loyalty).

The changing business environment and the scale of organisational change

In any one year, around 70 per cent of UK managers can expect to be affected by a major organisational restructuring particularly if they work in Public Companies (PLCs), the public sector or in organisations employing over 1,000 people. The 'restructuring rate' (the percentage of managers affected in any one year) is highest in the financial services sector, the utilities, the business services sector and in manufacturing. Continual change and increasing employment instability (aka 'flexibility') are now facts of organisational life but our research has indicated that change is rarely perceived to be well managed in UK business organisations particularly if you occupy a rung at the lower end of the managerial ladder (Worrall et al., 2000).

Since 1997, the main forms of organisational change affecting managers have remained stable and the instruments used to bring about change are overwhelmingly focused on cost reduction by the use of redundancy, delayering, outsourcing, (down)rightsizing and replacing staff on permanent contracts with those on temporary contracts. …