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Self Care Week: addressing overwork through the recording of working hours

20 November 2014

Victoria Wass and Peter Turnbull, Cardiff University Business School.


How many hours did you work last week? Do you normally work above contract? Do your hours of work match your hours’ preference? Do you manage to balance working and your life outside?

An ESRC-funded project designed to explore practical steps to monitor and manage the working hours of overworked police Inspectors agreed that recording of hours was the first step to the effective management of overworking. Here we draw lessons for university staff from our study of overworking amongst police Inspectors.

Why the police? The study of overworking in the police service magnified processes and relationships found more generally amongst salaried professionals so that long hours of work, which we found to be accepted reluctantly by police Inspectors rather than being sought after and celebrated, were more readily exposed, identified and understood.

Are the findings relevant to university staff? Police Inspectors are salaried professionals’ often in positions as ‘middle’ or operational managers. While certain aspects of the employment relationship are specific to policing, many of the working practices and professional values are widely shared outside policing.

Work pressures in the police service have been exacerbated by the extra demands generated by austerity budgets but internal drivers are important too and these comprise a specific set of work practices and a strong competitive ‘can do’ culture. Salaried staff are at particular risk of overworking because their overtime hours are not recorded or remunerated. Like most salaried professionals, Inspectors are expected to ‘get the job done’ and in the process manage their own working time. Where workload exceeds contracted working time, the difference is made up through unrecorded and unpaid overtime hours.

Mobile ICT in the form of mobile phones, lap tops and tablets are important facilitators of unrecorded overtime. While increasing efficiency at work, these also extend working hours beyond the workplace making staff available to colleagues, customers and students 24/7.

In policing, an heroic ‘cop culture’ ˗ a keen sense of mission and always being ready to ‘tough it out’ in the service of the community ˗ is matched by a strong desire not to appear weak or unable to cope and a sense of guilt associated with working only contracted hours when colleagues (and especially more senior officers) are working longer. Different professions have their own heroic characteristics which tend to be associated with a mixture of self-esteem and career advancement. For academics there is the added driver of a keen interest in their subject. In a strong competitive culture, it can be difficult for individuals to admit to any ‘failure’ in relation to workload. In this way the problem is reproduced while remaining hidden from colleagues and managers.

The upper limit on working time in the UK is set by the Working Time Regulations (WTR) at an average of 48 hours per week measured over a 17 week period unless the employee has consented to opt out. This is a maximum. It is an extreme value. For most employees, contracted hours of work is substantially less than this. The WTR limit is evidence-based.

Countless studies have documented the adverse effects of excessive working time for individuals and organisations – from greater risk of heart attack and chronic ill-health to increased incidence of incivility towards colleagues and customers and mounting sickness absence. From our study it was clear that actual hours of work were not monitored by Constabularies (the employer) and only incompletely recorded by police Inspectors themselves. Both sides were aware of overworking and, in the absence of any evidence, the problem could be conveniently set aside while it continued to escalate.

In response to the project findings, the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) developed an App which easily and accurately records hours of work whenever and wherever they are undertaken. This includes a facility to download the hours’ data to a spread sheet and produce a working time log with statistics relevant to the WTR.

We use the App to monitor our hours of work. We both work above contract but less so now than before. The hours’ data allow us to balance our hours over a number of weeks and to ensure that our job descriptions are compatible with contracted hours of work.

If you think you need to monitor your hours of work, the PFEW App is available to anyone with a smart phone and can be downloaded for free from You simply register to use the App. You don’t need to be a member of the PFEW. Once on the App select Advice, then Duty Recorder and simply start the clock. When you finish work, stop the clock. If you forget either, you can enter and edit the log.

For all salaried professionals, recording your hours is a necessary ‘nudge’ in the direction of making choices over working time and taking control over work-life balance