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Why do we work unpaid hours?

Enough. If an employer hires me to do a job, it means they have deemed me qualified to do it. If I cannot complete the task required in the hours for which I am paid, I am being conned. Hard-working? If you pay me, I’ll do a good job. That’s the deal

The same article cites TUC research claiming 1 in 5 workers puts in an extra day’s unpaid work a week.

You need to ask why this is the case. Employers often put subtle (and not so subtle) pressure on staff to ‘go the extra mile’, and some jobs simply demand additional hours (teaching is an obvious example: I defy anyone to prepare a week’s work in 5 hours PPA).

But I’ve met plenty of people who willingly put in the extra hours when it’s obviously detrimental to their own and their co–workers’ position. There’s psychology at play here. What’s going on?

  • Fear. Work has changed in the last 5 years. You’re lucky to have a job and there are plenty of people out there who would willingly step in to your shoes. I think there’s something in this argument, but I’ve worked in offices where people did lots of unpaid work before 2008.
  • Enjoyment. You enjoy doing your job so you don’t mind carrying on past your contracted hours. Although why enjoyment should equate to unpaid I have no idea.
  • Boredom. Let’s be honest. Some people don’t have much beyond work and, sadly, don’t really want to go home. Time in the office fills a void.
  • Competition. When your job doesn’t require specific, technical skills, the only apparent differentiator is the ability to stay at your desk longer than other people.

Perhaps we’ve lost belief in the work we do. In the past work required skills learnt through study or experience, or we did things our employers wouldn’t do in a million years.

Now – unless you’re a teacher, nurse or something similar – we’re just a bundle of transferable skills working in more or less pleasant offices. How do we prove our value when we feel what we’re doing is pointless?

There is, of course, a delicious irony here. While we don’t value what we’re doing, we do more of it, and make more of a virtue out of it.