Overworked and underpaid: how can we improve our work/life balance?

Long hours and physical stress are widely acknowledged as being bad for our health, but in the current work climate it seems that gruelling hours and unreachable expectations are increasingly common. Everything we do outside of work, any time we allow for relaxation, hobbies, holidays or raising children is quietly judged as ‘lesser,’ than working a 9-5. You spent the day volunteering at a homeless shelter, but I sat at my desk for ten hours, so I’ve worked harder. Overworking has simply become an expectation within most sectors, and if you’re not up past midnight on a Sunday, desperately trying to finish a presentation for Monday morning, then you’re not doing it right.

 More jobs than ever are geared towards the expectation that we’ll overwork to meet our targets. With more students than ever graduating university with a 1st or a 2:1, and more people waiting to take time off to have children until later in life, the working world is becoming increasingly competitive. Most of us are terrified to say no when allocated a task, in fear that our ever obsessive, time defying, ‘always on’ co-worker will swoop in and steal the job you worked so hard to get.

Employees are attempting to maintain responsibilities that twenty years ago, would have been allocated between three, and technological advances mean that we never truly switch off.  Far too many of us think success means to stay in same job for fifty years, after all it’s the respectable, commendable thing to do and it usually allows you a couple of promotions and a decent pension. You start as an intern at 19 and stay until your depressing retirement party in which you’re forced to graciously thank everyone for the hideous present, they all chipped in for. But does it really have to be this way? It’s apparent that the world of work in broken, so why are we so insistent on maintaining it?

Compare this to Denmark for example, recent studies found that the Danish enjoyed a staggering 16.1 hours of leisure time a day, with only 2% of people feeling as if they spend too much time at work. That’s 16 whole hours devoted to spending time with family, wine-soaked dinners with friends and getting on top of that washing pile that just never seems to end. They have some of the world’s highest standards of employee safety, fair salaries and one of the shortest hourly working weeks, and yet the Danes are among the most productive and hardworking forces in Europe.

Scandinavians have a word, ‘arbejdsglæde’ which specifically means ‘happiness at work’.

Most agree that the key to leading such a well-balanced lifestyle is down to just two things, autonomy and empowerment, which in turn results in satisfied and conscientious workers who genuinely enjoy their job.

So, here are our top five way to improve your work life/balance:

1.Use your calendar

We’re great at planning our time at work, but not so good at scheduling down time. It doesn’t have to be anything mind blowing, but just creating time to go to the gym, or to meet a friend for coffee can massively boost productivity at work, while also looking after your wellbeing.

2. Become a Slashie

Over 320,500 people are already working more than two jobs, and that figure is set to rise. People are embracing a flexible ‘gig’ economy, choosing to pursue their passions, and earn some extra money while they’re at it. By maintaining more than one career, you can relax in the knowledge that not everything you know, and love hangs in the balance of a single job. It’s the ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’ mentality.

3. Take regular breaks (and go outside)

This may sound simple, but it’s estimated that a staggering 40% of people each lunch at their desks. Lunch is the perfect time to give your brain a break, and to socialise, and it’s important to take every opportunity to recharge and relax, we promise you’ll feel happier and more productive, afterwards.

4.Try something new

If you’re the kind of person who struggles without a goal to work towards, why not pick up a new hobby? Putting your energy into learning a new (fun) skill can relieve stress and take your mind off work. The crazier, the better we say.

5. Learn to say no

That right, the dreaded word that we’re very unfamiliar with. Saying ‘no’ is something that most of us avoid, but definitely need to practice. If your employer asks you to complete a task, they’re giving you the opportunity to say no, so take it! Saying yes to everything won’t increase productivity and your work could suffer in the long term.

So, there you have it. The perfect work/life balance is not just a pipedream, after all.

Calling time on wage theft

We investigate a growing problem

With brighter days finally gracing our skies, the restaurant trade is expectedly booming. While we all enjoy grabbing a bite on a sunny evening or a couple of cheeky lunchtime pints, increased custom and a higher demand on serving staff can sometimes result in customers leaving the restaurant without paying for their food. 

Despite the UK restaurant and food industry turning over more than 30 billion pounds each year, which tends to spike over the summer months, increasing reports of ‘Wage theft’, as described by Unite the union, have recently surfaced, causing outrage across social media. Multiple restaurants across England and Wales have been accused of cutting the wages of employees to cover the bill after customers have left without paying for their food, and as someone who’s worked in hospitality for the past six years, i can unfortunately confirm that dine and dashers, are hardly unheard-of.

While all restaurants accused have made it clear that this unfair conduct is not company policy, some restaurant managers are blatantly ignoring their moral and, in some cases, legal obligation to pay their employees a full wage, even if a walkout occurs.

This recent misconduct within the restaurant industry brings to light just how detrimental wage theft has become. Wage theft tends to happen more frequently amongst jobs with a high employee turnover, and to those working zero hours contracts, and unsurprisingly many people choose not to speak out against it, in fear that their employment is vulnerable.

Imagine planning a lads holiday to Magaluf, questionable nickname t-shirts and all, only to find that you’re forced to cancel after having your wages docked by £150, due to circumstances entirely out of your control. Or worse, imagine finding you couldn’t pay your rent or food bill because the earnings you earmarked to cover it are no longer coming in.

Such severe sanctions simply cannot be justified.

Just last month, it was reported that a Cardiff waitress was forced to give up £55 out of her wages after a table left without paying for their food. The waitress, who had loyally worked the company for 9 years, was ordered to pay the bill, with the justification that “walk-outs happen too often”. Losing out on the £55, meant that her earnings from the 10 hour shift she worked were docked to £45, bringing her hourly rate down to an illegal, and quite frankly embarrassing £4.50, an eye watering £3.71 below the minimum wage. While her employers commented in defence that this practice was ‘absolutely not company policy’, this response is simply not powerful enough in the face of such a detrimental issue. You only have to read our manifesto to know, that here at limber, we’re pretty passionate about fair pay.

While common, wage theft is not a unique problem to the hospitality sector, and studies have found that the total for unpaid wages suffered by British workers was around a staggering £3.1 billion in 2016, meaning that more than six million of the lowest-paid workers in the country each lost out by £470 on average. Official statistics also show that more than 360,000 workers across the UK as a whole were paid below the national minimum living wage in 2016. Three years on and we’re still fighting against this blatant abuse of trust and exploitation of labour. If the deduction pulls the hourly rate below minimum wage, which in many cases it does, it’s simply illegal.

While there is no organisation that appears to officially follow wage docking as company policy, there’s also a vast lack of measures in place to inhibit this kind of misconduct, and a clear need for a push towards achieving David Metcalfs, Director of Labour Market Enforcement, most recent strategy which is set to improve state-led enforcement of employment rights. This includes new laws and regulations, that explicitly inhibit the unfair docking of workers’ wages.

It’s time to protect workers and ensure that those in higher positions are not lining their pockets with the wages that rightfully belong to their employees, from servers to hairdressers to dog walkers, a full day’s pay is a simply your fundamental right.