Do we work too hard? Working conditions for business leaders

Published on: 26 Nov 2014

It is widely known that the UK has the longest average annual working hours of all the major economies in Europe. The average working week in the UK is now 43.6 hours compared with a European average of 40.3 and limits of just 35 in France - but over and above that figure it is believed that the number of people working more than 48 hours a week has increased.

A report by the TUC - Trades Union Congress - on working time showed that almost four million employees are going above the 48-hour limit, which is 350,000 more people than ten years ago. So, despite a European directive aimed at reducing working time it's clear that in the UK we're pushing ourselves harder, and for longer, than before. Referring to the TUC report, one in 25 men are working for at least 60 hours a week, and managers and professional staff toil the longest.

To a degree, working hard is applauded and encouraged but there are limits to consider. For example, a study conducted by the University of Padova in Italy last year concluded that employees who were considered to be workaholics worked hard rather than smart and put themselves under high levels of mental and physical strain. By not creating enough leisure and relaxation time, these individuals may experience negative health symptoms including digestive, memory and sleep problems.

"This mirrors the work on stress and performance," chartered psychologist Dr Mike Drayton told the British Psychological Society. "When you map stress against performance you find that the relationship was roughly normal distribution. In other words, when people feel stressed at work, or they feel that there is too much work, or they feel compelled to work too hard, their performance is poor."

And yet, details of successful business leaders working long hours have become the stuff of legend. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, begins his working day at 4.30am by sending emails; a profile on him and his methods disclosed that he fuels up on an endless supply of energy bars and prides himself on being the first into the office and the last one out.

Carlos Ghosn, the Chairman and CEO of both Renault and Nissan, is renowned as the hardest working man in the global car industry. He reportedly works 65 hours a week holding down his two positions and spends around 48 hours a month flying. He clocks up 150,000 air miles in a year.

Marissa Mayer, CEO at Yahoo, had a punishing work ethic while at Google with talk of 130-hour weeks and sleeping under her desk. A Fortune magazine article on Jeff Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, titled The Bionic Manager, described how he worked 100 hours a week for 24 years and divided his time into strict allocations of 30% to staff evaluation, 30% to operations, 30% to growth initiatives and 10% to governance, investor communications and board communications. That's focused and disciplined - in the extreme.

While employees must find work-life balances to suit their individual requirements it seems that the elite global business leaders are content to operate with their own rules.