Why Do You Work So Many Hours?

Mark Freire

25th April 2017

5 million people in the UK regularly do unpaid overtime, providing £31.5 billion of free work. While the average 32.2 hours worked per week by Britons is reasonable by global standards (Mexico work an average 43.2 hours) the figure hides a large amount of disparity.

For every worker giving Friday a miss, there’s someone else slogging away at the office well past 6pm. And then there are the hidden hours so common in the tech sector that none us really count – but are still work. The ‘playing around’ with a work project at the weekend, or the pub socials which are actually work meetings in disguise.

If your work is taking over too much of your life then it is worth asking yourself why. “I simply have too much work to do” is a reply which can hide a whole range of other reasons – some of which are far less about your work, and far more about you.

How many of these apply to you?

Conspicuous productivity
Social commentator Ben Tarnoff argues that working hard is a new ‘status symbol’ in society. Tech CEOs from Apple’s Tim Cook to Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer don’t talk about their wealth, but often reference their 3.45am starts and 130 hour work weeks. Appearing as a productivity superhero amongst work colleagues can generate a sense of power and show everyone your social worth. People with a need for conspicuous productivity will also “work on themselves” rather than relax in the few hours outside of work. If your leisure time involves hard gym sessions or mental self-improvement – rather than Netflix and pizza – then your long hours may be more about your self worth and status amongst colleagues than your workload.

For those pushing themselves to the limit, scheduling in deliberate ‘do nothing’ sessions may be the only way to avoid burnout.


Avoiding personal issues

It’s well documented that when faced with a personal trauma, some people throw themselves into their work. This can be a common reaction to a whole range of other personal challenges – from the hurt of a break-up, to long term issues of loneliness or depression. Continued long hours without holiday time can be a delaying tactic for taking the steps needed to address these painful challenges.

If the prospect of some thinking time is too much for you to bear then there is help. JITR are currently supporting MIND, the mental health charity, and they have lots of online resources as well as a helpline on their website mind.org.uk.


Work is socialising
When people claim they ‘love’ work, they often simply love the people they work with. Humans are generally social creatures, so if you do not have an active social life outside of the workplace it can be tempting to maximise your time in the office. However if both your worklife and social life is orientated around the office, it can be difficult to mentally separate the two and get the timeout that you need.

Everyone should have people they know outside of the office. The website meetup.com features a whole range of events where you can meet like minded people in your local area.


Work addiction
If you become stressed when you are prevented from working, then your long hours could be symptomatic of an addiction. Humans can become psychologically addicted to many different things – work amongst them. Workaholism is the absolutely inability to step away from your work and take a break. It can be sparked by having to work long hours, but the need to keep going whatever the personal cost can run much deeper. There are 7 key signifiers of a work addiction – click here to find out if they apply to you.


Do you have an office nemesis? Sometimes long hours can be driven by the simple need to demonstrate that you are the best. This can especially be true if there is one person in your workplace that you compare yourself to, and like to beat. Competitive people tend to be competitive in all parts of their lives, so if you always hate to lose this could be the reason for your work ethic.

The trick to solving the problem is to consciously select which areas in your life to be competitive. By developing a competitive outlet outside of work such as sport, martial arts, pub quizzes, or hackathons, you may be able to let your office rivalry slide.


Simply too much work to do
Of course, you might simply have too much work to do within manageable work hours. If you consider this to be a problem, then it is time to talk to your manager. Creating a list of your current weeks’ tasks alongside hour counts for their completion will demonstrate to your manager the scale of the problem.

Nearly all managers would prefer to address the issue (especially if they are unaware of the problem) than see you burn out at a vital moment or take your talents and long work hours to a competitor.