Half of HR and recruitment professionals taking on unpaid overtime, survey reveals

Experts warn employees are at risk of burnout without formal structures and employer support

Credit: Monty Rakusen & icon river

HR and recruitment professionals are doing more unpaid overtime than people from other professional disciplines, matched only by environment and agricultural workers, according to research by Claro Wellbeing. 

The survey of 1,000 UK-based workers revealed that half (50 per cent) of HR and recruitment professionals are taking on up to five hours of extra, unpaid work a week.

Bina Briggs, director of plain talking HR, said HR professionals can be particularly at risk of overly long hours and burnout because “it is one of those professional categories where people just expect you to do whatever needs doing”.

“You can be very disciplined and structured about controlling your hours and workload during the day, but then you can’t control people wanting to talk to you and needing something there and then,” she said.

Employers can try and take some of the pressure off by “putting in place good structures and setting up official channels for people to contact HR that work well”, Briggs added.

The survey also found that just over a third (34 per cent) of all employees work beyond their contractual hours, and do some form of unpaid overtime every week. Almost one quarter (22 per cent) of people polled said they had experienced burnout in the past six months. 

People Management’s recent State of HR report found a similar trend, with 44 per cent of 4,604 HR professional respondents reporting they had suffered stress or mental ill-health as a result of their work.

Louise Aston, wellbeing director at Business in the Community (BITC), said employers working to protect their staff and preventing burnout “makes business sense”.

“Employers must take steps to support the wellbeing of their employees by ensuring that they can switch off outside of their agreed working hours and allowing them the right to flexible working from day one,” Aston explained. 

Pointing to BITC research, Aston said the UK economy could stand to benefit from up to £370 billion in financial return if employers invested in their people.

Executive coach and HR consultant Gemma Bullivant, said technological advances and the rise of remote work mean the nine to five working model is now “outdated”. In this new environment, “trust is essential” to mitigate the risk of burnout, she added. 

“Discretionary effort may be necessary to meet deadlines or handle unexpected situations. But prolonged and consistent long hours can lead to employee burnout and decreased productivity,” she said. 

“Employers should recognise the need for flexibility and fair compensation for overtime. Moreover, employers have a responsibility to protect HR professionals from burnout by fostering a supportive work environment.”

Matt Gingell, managing partner at Lombards, said employees may have legal protection if they wish to be paid for overtime or explore whether they can refuse to do unpaid work, but they should always check their contract.

“The contract should set out the hours of work and the remuneration to be received, whether it’s in the form of an annual salary or pay at an hourly rate. There may also be provisions outlining overtime and rates,” he added.

“In some contracts, particularly in contracts for professional services staff, while the hours of work are specified, a separate clause may state that the employee is expected on occasions to work additional hours for no extra pay in order to fulfil their duties,” Gingell explained.