You can do anything with statistics but surveys have shown that the UK and Spain end up being fairly similar when it comes to the average number of hours worked per week: 36.55 and 36.52 respectively. But hidden in those figures are people who work much longer hours than that.
In a large office environment – where I spent most of my working life – it was always the same people who clung resolutely to their desks as everyone else went home, and were often still there many hours later. I know this because I was one of them. Why did we do it? We certainly didn’t get paid for it. No, the reward was satisfying ourselves that we were doing a good job and going the extra mile, even when not under any particular pressure to do so. Yet despite this apparent dedication to the company, senior management tended to view us very negatively. Why was this?
It was because they deduced that if someone is still in the office at 9:00pm every night when they should have gone home at 5:30pm, then they are clearly unable to manage their time and workload efficiently and therefore by definition are inefficient. They must be struggling to get through their work during the day so need the evening hours to catch up, and must be unable to delegate. Often a poor annual review was the result, and you can imagine what this did for loyalty and morale.
The key consideration most often ignored is that perhaps, just perhaps, the long-hours worker is just an extremely loyal, conscientious and hard-working employee who just wants to get every detail right and without whose efforts significantly more projects and initiatives would fail. This isn’t noticed because it is only when failures occur that the spotlight is shone on the reasons, and if no failures occur and everything just works fine senior managers can assume that it is because what goes on underneath them is easy as opposed to someone working incredibly hard to keep it all on track.
E-mail management is a good example. Many colleagues would leave hundreds of mails unread and expect people to chase them if it is urgent, but the long-hours worker is often spending those quieter late hours wading through the pages of new e-mails and clearing their inbasket. Ironically the very managers castigating their underlings for their inefficiencies are usually themselves working through the evening catching up on their e-mails, but doing it from the train and then at home. They would argue that they have no choice because of their large remit and workload, yet if the underling proffers the same excuse they are told to delegate or work more efficiently. The only difference is that the office-dweller probably prefers to keep work and home life separate.
Maybe the only way for hard working long hours workers to get their life back and be recognised rather than castigated for their efforts is to find a dull job and start clock-watching instead.