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Are we a nation of workaholics?

Do the British really work longer hours than the rest of Europe, and is it because we actually want to? Why, asks Tanis Taylor, has ‘workaholism’ become an accepted part of British life?

by Psychologies

British workers put in the longest hours and take the least amount of holiday in the European Union, with two-thirds of us working through our lunch breaks. Stress levels in the UK are soaring, and, every year, offices lose approximately 32.9 million working days and 10 per cent of the UK’s gross national product through work-related illness.

One thing is sure, office life in Britain isn’t working. It has been found that, while laptop users work an average six-day week, they believe they are more productive and flexible than their colleagues. Another study suggests that three quarters of long-hour workers do so out of choice.

So what is the real story?

A personal issue

Are we working hard because we want to, or have to? Some experts believe work has become such an important part of our identity that we only feel fulfilled if we push ourselves to achieve our career goals, even if this means neglecting our personal lives. Others believe that we are slaves to an increasingly work-focused, 24-hour society. Do we still look to work to define who we are? Or does the increasing flexibility in our working lives and the rise of the portfolio career signal a shift towards finding work that fits in with our lives and values, rather than the other way around? Perhaps workaholism is a problem we need to address as a society, by finding ways to work smarter, not longer. Or is it a personal issue?

'We’re facing an overwork crisis'

We are forced into being a nation of workaholics. There is no longer a job for life, and the fear of redundancy spurs us into working longer and longer hours. Many of us think simply being present is essential to our career progression, which is also why we increasingly don’t take our holidays. The UK already has the lowest holiday entitlement in Europe: 27 days to France’s 47, Italy’s 44 and Germany’s 41 days.

Work stress

Workplace surveys have proven that stress is a widespread problem. And that’s not taking into account the work that is done outside of the workplace, particularly by women. Modern family life means that not only are more women working than 20 years ago, but many are also juggling employment with childcare and looking after elderly parents. Add to this modern technology, which allows us to be contactable 24 hours a day and the touchpaper for an overwork crisis is well and truly lit.

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