Slacking off at work: Productivity vs long hours

Productivity is a term that gets thrown around a lot, largely because here in the UK ours isn't very good. The French can achieve in four days what we can manage in five, the Germans have both a higher output and more time on holiday than us. Is it time to reconsider those long hours?

French and German Efficiency

What are they doing that we aren't? Recent research suggests that the average Brit works more than eight hours of overtime per week, unpaid. Even with the most turbulent of economic times behind us, most of us are just happy we've actually got a job, and we sure aren't going to look like we're being lazy by not putting in the hours. But how efficient are we in those hours? 

Long hours, big issues

Many employers are beginning to realise that maybe it's this long-hours culture which actually causes the problem. It's common sense that the longer you work, the more likely you are to burn out and suffer a consequent drop in productivity, leaving you less able to complete a task than if you'd just gone home earlier.

As well as lowering morale, consistently working late can also have a substantial impact on your health:


Getting enough sleep is hugely important to your general wellbeing. If you're answering emails at midnight, you're not switching off until a good while after that, which can affect your general concentration, your ability to make decisions and is linked to depression


If you're spending too much of your time working, it's likely that you haven't got time to exercise enough, to cook healthily, and see your family and friends.

Numerous studies have shown that all of these can lead to increased stress and a higher risk of stroke or heart attack. 

Musculoskeletal problems 

This is particularly relevant if you're office-based. Spending ten plus hours per day in the same chair, in the same position, is guaranteed to be bad for your posture and can result in repetitive strain injury, back injury and eye strain. You can reduce musculoskeletal problems by implementing the right ergonomic solutions – at work and the home. Ergonomic chairs are a great place to start.


A Finnish study found that men who work more than 49 hours per week consume more alcohol than men who work 48 hours or less. It's logical that a couple of beers will help you unwind after a long day—but the study also found that those who were drinking more than two beers after work experienced a drop in performance. 

Mental health

In addition to the problems caused by stress, working too much has also been linked by one American study to cognitive problems in later life, including mental decline and even dementia. 

The extra hours might impress your boss; they might even be boosting your salary, but there's a strong correlation between the long-hours culture and a lack of productivity, not to mention a decreased quality of life.

Presenteeism isn't the answer to the productivity puzzle; maybe the time would be better spent getting some rest, and getting the job done properly the next day.