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Simple changes

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Simple changes

Taking control of when, where and how we work is not easy, but it is worthwhile

It can be hard to recognise why you seem to be spending longer at work than with your friends and family – and even harder to work out how to reverse the situation so that you are more productive when you are at work and more fun when you aren't!

Here are some general suggestions about how to start to tackle long working hours, but remember please contact the union if you encounter serious problems with stress or overwork.

Identify things you would do if you had more time and promise yourself that if you can reduce working excessive hours you will do one or more of these.

By making yourself a promise, (or a series of promises depending on the extent to which you succeed) you will be rewarding yourself for the necessary effort.

Make some promises

Listed below are a number of different commitments that you could make, but it is best to come up with something that you know you will stick to. Have a think about what will work for you and how often you can realistically do it. Having something to leave work for is one of the best ways of taking control of your hours.

The following tips have worked for people in the past:

  • join a sports club and attend every week
  • pick the kids up from school once a week
  • sign-up for a weekly evening class and don't miss it because of work
  • go to the cinema once a month and leave work on time to get there
  • make a regular appointment to meet a friend for a coffee and stick to it
  • leave work on time every Thursday
  • form a book group with friends and make sure I go to it every week/month
  • take the kids to school in the morning
  • go out for my lunch break at least once a week
  • sign-up for a weekly lunchtime exercise class
  • go for a walk in my lunch hour twice a week 
  • make a note of how many hours extra I am working each week
  • commit to some voluntary work in my local community which means helping out three evenings a month.

Set yourself realistic objectives

If you are currently working excessive hours it may not be realistic to assume that you can change this pattern immediately. You may need to set yourself some milestones.

If you want to tackle a problem you first need to quantify it. By recording the number of hours you work you will be taking the first step towards getting control of them.

Once you have recorded how many hours you are working, you might decide to reduce your working week by a realistic figure each week. 

If you must work late, then try to reclaim the time owed. If you are expected to stay late, or come in at the weekend, you may be eligible to be paid overtime, or allowed to take the time off in lieu. Talk to the union about the agreed arrangements in your workplace. 

Set appropriate rules that work for you about if and when you will respond to calls outside of normal working hours.  Take your holidays; you've earned them and you deserve them.

Discussing issues with colleagues 

If you are concerned about long hours at work, then discuss this with your colleagues.  Excessive hours are bad for workers and for business, you are not being disloyal, but contributing to resolving an obstacle to efficiency.

If you have calculated your average hours and they are excessive, ask your colleagues to count theirs for a trial period, and collate a 'weekly average' for the section. If it's a common problem in your work group then seek to raise at a team meeting.

One of the most effective ways of demonstrating how counter productive long hours can be, is to propose that for a trial week everyone goes home on time. To ensure the work is completed, get people to think about how time is wasted.

Consider alternatives

  • Can some tasks be streamlined or even stopped completely, for example by using IT more effectively?
  • Are all those meetings really necessary, and does everyone really need to attend?
  • Is consideration given to travelling time when setting the start time for meetings?
  • Do people turn up on time, and how much of the meeting is 'dead time' waiting for latecomers?
  • Could the meetings be made shorter with an agreed fixed finishing time?


You might also agree that there is not an expectation that colleagues will respond to emails at weekends, and that after 5pm only essential phone calls will be made.

Raise your concerns with your manager

Expressing concerns over your workload and excessive hours when you have progress meetings with your manager is NOT a sign of weakness or of failure. It is part of your professional responsibility to manage your own health and safety and that of others.

In negotiations employers' representatives often point out that they cannot address these issues if they are not raised at a local level by individuals directly affected. Ensure that your concerns are recorded and seek an 'action point' or at least a review of your workload.