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Working hours UK & average hourly wage UK

Man with long working hours in the UK

Written by Payspective team

February 15, 2021

In short: The average number of weekly working hours in the UK is 41.8, which is somewhat normal in international comparison. Job satisfaction is unaffected by working up to 60 hours a week but takes a big hit beyond that. Meanwhile, the average hourly wage in the UK is £16.6. Looking at white-collar professionals, there are substantial differences in both working hours and average hourly wages for different company types and seniority levels in the UK.

When considering a new job or deciding whether or not we’re satisfied with the one we have, compensation often plays a key role. In particular, we look at the annual salary and how it compares to what others make in a year. This is our key benchmark for how “good” and often also for how reputable a job is.

However, this approach only takes into account what comes out of a job (money) and not what we put into a job (working hours). Doubling your salary is simple if you just take on a second full-time job. But you’ll be miserable – you won’t sleep, you won’t have time for your family and friends and eventually you’ll burn out. A more refined metric that takes into account both the money you make and the working hours you put in is the hourly wage. This article is all about working hours and the average hourly wage in the UK. 

We’ll cover the following topics – do feel free to jump to whatever is most interesting to you: 

UK working hours in international comparison

Many people like to think of their countries as particularly hard-working, efficient or happy. Let’s look at the data to see where the UK stands in terms of working hours, compared to some other countries.

Chart showing working hours in the UK as in the middle.
Chart 1: weekly working hours for different countries and country groups

As we can see, UK working hours are somewhat normal. At a weekly average of 41.8h, working hours in the UK aren’t as crazy as in Columbia (49.8h/week) and not as laid-back as in Denmark (37.2h/week). Compared to the EU average, people in the UK work two hours more per week than their European counterparts.

Average hourly wage UK

So let’s look how these 41.8 hours per week translate into an average hourly wage in the UK. We know that the average annual UK salary is £31,461. There are 52.1 weeks in a year. We’ll assume 5 weeks of holidays and 8 bank holidays, which means that a total of 6.7 weeks a year are off. This leaves us with 45.4 working weeks, which in turn leaves us with an average of 693£ per week. 

At 41.8 hours per week, this translates into an average hourly wage in the UK of 16.6£ per hour. Remember, this is gross, not net. Now let’s make this number a bit more meaningful and look at the relationship of working hours and hourly wages in the UK…

Working hours & happiness

Why do working hours even matter? Of course the less we work, the more time we have for other joys in life like our family, friends and hobbies. But isn’t working a lot also a sign that work is fun and we enjoy it? Let’s look at the data:

Chart showing the effect of working hours on job satisfaction in the UK. People who work more than 60 hours are less satisfied.
Chart 2: Average job satisfaction reported by professionals in different clusters of weekly working hours

As we can see, overall happiness is not really affected whether we work 40, 50 or 60 hours. To the contrary, overall job satisfaction is completely stable up to 60 working hours per week in the UK. This seems plausible as hours 40-60 often go hand in hand with additional as well as with a feeling of real impact. Also, working more is often associated with more responsibility which drives happiness.

Beyond 60 hours, however, people start to get fed up – the marginal value of the 65th hour feels low, it’s unlikely that you’re paid for it and work starts eating into the weekends and nights. Beyond 70, people just get plain miserable. They’re working 10h a day – every day of the week and weekend. Sleep is often sacrificed and professionals enter into a vicious circle of unhealthy habits that is difficult to break out from.

UK working hours by level of seniority 

Let’s take a closer look at working hours and average hourly wages in the UK for a specific group of the population – white-collar workers (professionals). Professionals are particularly interesting to analyse in detail because there is a lot of variation in pay and working hours between different company types and over the lifespan of a professional.

We’ll analyse four types of companies – startups, consultancies, PE/VC funds and corporates. Looking at the chart below, there is quite a lot of variation in terms of working hours between the four on junior levels. PE/VC and consulting are known for long hours and the data confirms just that. With an average weekly workload of 63 hours, PE/VC Associates have the longest working hours in the UK, followed by Consulting Associates at 57 hours. Working hours are more “normal” in startups with 48 hours per week and close to the 40 hour “ideal” in Corporates (45h per week).

Chart showing the evolution of working hours in the UK by company type.
Chart 3: Evolution of working hours over a career for different types of companies in the UK

There’s an interesting evolution of these working hours in the UK over the years, though. In fact, the gap that can be observed on the Associate level closes as professionals become more senior. In startups and corporates, working hours go up over time, while in consultancies and PE/VC funds, working hours go down. On the Director level, it almost doesn’t matter what type of company you work for – you’ll be working a bit over 50 hours per week either way. 

Now let’s bring pay into the equation and see where the working hours you put in really pay off in the UK, i.e. where the average hourly wage is highest. 

Average hourly wage progression for different company types in the UK

The convergence over time we saw for working hours cannot be observed for average hourly wages in the UK. Let’s start by looking at the Associate level again: as with working hours, there is quite a big difference between average hourly wages. Interestingly, consultancies pay the lowest hourly wages in the UK. While overall salaries are good, working hours are horrendous, driving the average hourly wage down quite aggressively. Meanwhile, in PE/VC, UK working hours are similarly bad (as we have seen above) but the high salaries more than make up for it, putting Associates at the top with an hourly wage of 55£.

Chart showing how the average hourly wage changes over time in different company types
Chart 4: Average hourly wage in the UK for different company types and levels of seniority

Between these two are startups and corporates. Salaries aren’t astronomical (particularly in startups) but working hours are much more manageable (particularly in corporates). As you progress in all these companies, so does your pay. On the Director level, PE/VCs still pay by far the best at an average hourly wage of 121£, while the other three company types all pay between 81-91£ per hour, on average.

By the way, if you’re interested in total salary progression (not hourly), check this out.

Satisfaction with working hours by seniority in the UK

We previously looked at how happy professionals in the UK are with their job, given their working hours. Now we want to look at how professionals feel explicitly about their working hours in the UK. Once again, let’s look at the data.

Chart showing the satisfaction with working hours on different levels of seniority in the UK.
Chart 5: Satisfaction with working hours and working hours by seniority in the UK

We can see that satisfaction with working hours increases with seniority in the UK. Specifically, Director-level professionals are up to 40% more satisfied with their work-life balance than Analysts. This seems to be driven by 2 main factors:

  1. Workload goes down a bit – while Analysts work an average of 56h hours per week, Directors work 52h.
  2. Directors have more control over their working hours. While Analysts’ hours are driven by what other people put on their plates, Directors determine their own hours (at least to some extent). 

So the more senior you get, the happier you’ll be with long working hours.

What it all means for you

So what are the takeaways of all this for you? Take these 5:

  • If you’re working long hours, try to cap them at 60h/week – beyond that, you’ll be miserable.
  • When you benchmark your pay, make sure you don’t just compare your earnings but also your hourly earnings to your peers. 
  • If you’re junior, think twice about the industry you want to join. Working hours differ significantly in the UK. If you’re more senior, you’re likely to work a bit over 50 hours a week no matter where.
  • Stay aware that some types of companies just pay more than others and that pay changes with seniority. If you want to maximise your pay per hour, avoid consulting and seek out PE/VC. If you feel underpaid in a startup, remember that pay per hour will increase a lot as you and the company grow.
  • When you get perspective about your career and work life, try to move beyond pay and think about how to optimise job satisfaction and working hours.

As you may have noticed, a lot of the data we talk about in this article comes from the 2021 Movemeon work & pay report. If you want further and deeper insights, you can get the report right here.

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