In this country (and many others), it is widely accepted that we should all work longer hours than we're paid to. I'm not sure where it came from, maybe it's always been around but I know that employers now more than ever take advantage of their workers' commitment or, in some cases, fear.
Most people in full-time employment are contracted to work between 35 and 40 hours but most people I know do more work than that in one way or another and I've done it myself in the past. For example: a friend of mine says he works 50 hours a week. Let's say he's paid for 40: that's 25% extra free he's giving his employers. If another three of his colleagues do the same, that's a whole free member of staff their employers aren't paying for. A whole person not being employed. Extrapolate that out across the working population and that's........a shitload of jobs that should be created but for people working longer hours than they should.
Why do we* do it? Are we so grateful to our employers for using us to make themselves more money? Do we feel a sense of duty to burn ourselves out for the good of the corporation? Or has the idea of the hard-working, striving, successful person become so ingrained in our society that we would feel like we don't deserve a job if we only worked the hours we were paid for?
And then there's 'acting up'. How many of us do work above our paygrade? And how many of us feel that 20 years ago and even 10 years ago (in my case, even 5 years ago), our jobs would have been valued at a higher salary? These days the salary gap between the bottom and the top and even the middle and the top is absurd. The people at the top reward themselves for making everyone below them work harder for less.
Another concern was highlighted by a conversation I had with a junior colleague just this week: she felt that more senior staff could be expected to work more hours. I disagreed: the higher salary is a reward for experience and an acknowledgement of the higher level of responsibility you have. It's not a bonus for doing more hours - yet I know that most people do make that assumption too and I have myself in the past.
We are all in a difficult position. For every worker there is someone unemployed or in a more junior position waiting for their chance. But the fact is that there would be less unemployment if workers refused to do more than they were paid to do. Unemployment and a lack of career progression for many seems to be a good way to make us all work harder: those who want to take the first or next step on their career ladder will work hard to prove themselves and those in their way will work hard to keep their jobs. I'm not a conspiracy theorist but some people would suggest that full employment would not be in the interest of those wealthy people and large corporations that our government serves.
I work very hard: I'm actually doing what is effectively two full-time jobs (if you don't believe me, I have concrete evidence of this fact!) but I, for one, refuse to do more hours than I am paid to. If something cannot be done, then it does not get done. And perhaps eventually my employers will realise this and employ an additional person.
*I don't do it any more. I used to and it didn't stop me being made redundant when my employers were bought out by a larger company who simply wanted their clients. I did it again when I had a whole new different career to get a foot-hold in and continued to do so until I felt I had proven myself. I was then in the situation where I was about to start a new role and had a baby on the way, so I started that new position as I intended to continue: doing my 35 hours and nothing more (unless absolutely necessary and then only the very minimum extra). I wanted to be there for my son and my wife. I don't want to miss important milestones. I don't want to miss his bathtimes and bedtimes or playing new games because I'm on a train back from London or I'm in another room buried in spreadsheets or something. I work to live, not the other way around.