By Claire West

The loss of nearly 1 million full-time jobs and a shift to part-time working since the start of the recession has resulted in a drop of almost 10% in the number of UK men working more than 45 hours per week. However, summer 2009 marked the low point in working time, since when the number of long-hours workers has started to rise again.

This is one of a number of facts highlighted in a new work audit, Working Hours in the Recession, published today by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). The study of official UK and EU statistics finds that:

The recession has resulted in both a fall in total employment (down by a net 580,000, 2%, in the two years to spring 2010) and a shift from full-time employment (which has fallen by 910,000, 4.1%) to part-time employment (which has increased by 330,000, 4.4%).

This shift is to some extent due to many people working shorter hours to help their employers cut labour costs and thereby minimise redundancies. The combined impact of these changes is a net fall of 32.7 million (3.5%) in the number of hours worked each week in the UK. However, total hours have since started to rise again, indicating a modest, though uneven, pick-up in demand for labour since mid-2009.

In spring 2010 there were 440,000 fewer men working more than 45 hours per week than two years earlier (a net reduction of 9.4%). Male employees account for the bulk of the fall — the number working more than 45 hours has dropped by 11%.

Talk of the UK’s ‘long-hours culture’ is misleading — a ‘mixed-hours culture’ is a more accurate description. In spring 2010 there were as many people in the UK working between 16 and 30 hours per week as were working 45 hours or more per week.

In the final quarter of 2009 (the latest period for which comparable Eurostat figures are available) only 4 EU countries, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden, had shorter average working weeks than the UK.

Dr John Philpott, Chief Economic Adviser at the CIPD said:
“A marked shift to shorter working hours has been one of the key characteristics of the recession. But signs of an increase in long-hours working since the trough in hours in summer 2009 suggest that the fall in working time during the jobs downturn was a forced detox for Britain’s workaholics, most of whom will be eager to start putting in the hours again once the economic recovery gathers steam".

"HR managers mindful of the importance of a sensible work-life balance will need to determine whether a return to long hours working is the best outcome for staff or the organisations that employ them.”

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