Burning the Midnight Oil: Why Are So Many British Managers Working a 60-Hr Week?

Management Today, February 1995 | Go to article overview

Burning the Midnight Oil: Why Are So Many British Managers Working a 60-Hr Week?


Why are so many British managers working a 60-hour week? It's a truism that managers in Britain work longer and harder today than ever in the past. Almost half the respondents to a 1994 survey by Ashridge Management Research Group put in a minimum of 60 hours each week. What's less well known is that the British manager is much more likely than his foreign counterpart to take work home. Two-thirds of the managers based in the UK frequently take work home from the office: the comparable figure in most other parts of the world is about one-third. At first glance such dedication reflects great credit on the UK manager. On the other hand it could be asign of weakness.

Professor Cary Cooper of UMIST, the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, believes that the reason why people take work home is simple. Managers today he says, suffer from `presenteeism'. `They have too much work to do, and--being fearful of redundancy--they work too hard and turn up for work even when they shouldn't. Taking work home is part of that equation.' The optimum working week, according to Cooper, is some 35-40 hours. `It might have been slightly longer in the past, but new technology is creating more pressure, not less. Technology increases the pace of work by introducing the requirement to respond immediately.'

`Occasionally we all need to take some work home,' Cooper accepts. `But if you consistently do it every night, then it's bad. First, because most managers have families, or partners... If they bring work home, is it good for their relationships or good for their children? Second, is it good for their health or for their companies? Do they really get the rest and recuperation required to be the bright, creative and innovative managers which today's businesses require?'

Margaret Esslemont, facilities and services co-ordinator at the Aberdeen office of Conoco, the multinational oil company, admits to taking work home regularly but believes there is no choice. `No one is happy about taking work home - it bites into your leisure time too much - but it's the norm in this type of industry. If I didn't work outside 8.30-5.00 then I wouldn't meet deadlines,' she says. That might suggest that the deadlines are less than reasonable. …

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Burning the Midnight Oil: Why Are So Many British Managers Working a 60-Hr Week?
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