Brussels end to opt-out of 48-hour week, spells doom for UK businesses

The proposed end to Britain’s opt-out of the 48-hour working week could have disastrous consequences for businesses in the UK, who are currently surviving on the goodwill of employees who work extra hours to survive the credit crunch, warn specialists at leadership consultancy Dynamic Transitions.

According to the Surrey-based consultancy firm, many employees and especially managers are working in excess of 48 hours simply to help keep the business afloat and their jobs intact. If they are unable to continue, businesses will have no choice but to raise the cost of their services or hire additional staff, neither of which will sit well in an economy heading towards recession.

The announcement from Brussels comes at the same time as reports by Friends Provident, which suggests that employees are more prone to illness and stress than they were three years ago and that many already put at least seven hours of unpaid overtime in a week or work two jobs. Germain believes the move to reducing the amount of paid overtime available to staff, particularly in ‘blue collar’ jobs such as production or retail will result in even more stress as their ability to earn much needed extra income is slashed.

“Companies may find themselves in a situation where they can’t give staff overtime because they have already worked their 48 hours. This is likely to cause added strain on businesses who may then put pressure on employees to work even harder in less time, resulting in a dramatic fall in morale and an increase in costs if these staff then go sick”, explains Judith Germain, MD of Dynamic Transitions.

But office workers will be hit too, as Germain warns that the biggest issue facing businesses will be managing the performance of high achievers or ‘mavericks’ who enjoy the buzz of working hard and achieving their goals, even if it means working long hours.

“In the UK it is common place to work long hours, its part of our culture and its why most serviced offices, especially in The City, expect staff to be available beyond the traditional ‘working day’. With the option of overtime (paid or unpaid) potentially taken away from them, ’mavericks’ can become more disruptive and despondent, and this in itself will have a huge knock on effect on the business if they are not managed appropriately”, says Germain.

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