UK workers have among the longest working weeks in Europe, with estimates ranging from 38.4 to 42.5 hours on average. The question is, how many of those hours are actually spent working? This then raises a further question: what are employees doing with the rest of their time?

This post looks to answer these questions, as well as offer a few suggestions for how you can use these findings to increase your own staff’s productivity. 

How many hours does the average UK employee work on average? 

The reality is, humans simply aren’t capable of being productive for an entire of work day. Even with small breaks and lunch thrown in, our concentration and efficacy at our jobs is guaranteed to wane. 

Although estimates vary, the consensus seems to be the average is 3 hours a day which employees are actually working for.

So, what are they doing the other 5 hours or so? Well, here’s a list of the most common things employees do at work – besides working: 

  • Unessential admin (avoidable paperwork, repeatedly checking email, etc.) 
  • Unproductive meetings
  • Reading news websites
  • Texting or messaging
  • Checking social media
  • Non-work-related conversations with co-workers
  • Non-work-related calls
  • Making coffee or tea
  • Making and eating food (excluding lunch)
  • Bathroom breaks
  • Smoke breaks
  • Looking for new jobs

Now, in fairness, though some of the activities on the list above don’t qualify as work, they are constructive. Preparing and eating snacks, making hot drinks, and even smoke breaks enable people to maintain their productivity. Others, on the other hand, are avoidance activities and allow employees to merely look busy vs employees actually working. 

The thing is, avoidance activities are symptoms of unproductivity – not the cause of it. Let’s take a look at what contributes to making staff less productive. 

What hinders staff productivity?


Let’s start with the reason that we have the least influence over: our biology. We don’t have the natural capability to maintain concentration and productivity for the entirety of our work day. Instead, we have two productivity peaks a day in line with our circadian rhythm: mid-late morning (around 9 -11am) and mid-late afternoon (around 3-4pm).

Interruptions and multitasking

When someone interrupts you, your brain often has to backtrack to get back to where it was in the task you’re undertaking, which decreases your productivity. The same applies to multitasking, as switching between tasks compromises your concentration. These are known as ‘switching costs’: the price you pay for turning your attention to something else. 

Poor workplace culture

Poor company culture leads to less happy employees and it stands to reason that people who are less satisfied with their job will be less productive. In contrast, those who work in an organisation with a thriving company culture are likelier to be more engaged, ambitious, and creative. 

How can you increase the amount of time workers are productive?

While it’s unreasonable to expect the modern worker to be productive all the time, surely we can do better than 3 hours a day? Here are a few ways that you might increase your employee’s productivity. 

  • Change your company’s working week
    Rethinking the working week is the most radical suggestion but it has the potential to yield the greatest results.  Experiments with a 4-day work week, for instance, have proven successful in increasing employee productivity in countries such as New Zealand.  
  • Flexible working
    Flexible working practices give your staff more influence over when and where they work is also likely to result in higher productivity. Flexitime initiatives allow employees to work when they feel they’re most productive and structure their workday around their personal commitments (childcare, school runs, sick relatives, etc) – increasing their level of engagement. Similarly, the ability to work remotely gives your employee the option to stay home if they could do with a day without the distractions of the office. 
  • Encourage time off
    Ensuring staff use up as much of their annual leave allowance as possible allows them to recharge their batteries and return to work refreshed. In contrast, not taking enough annual leave can lead to burnout. 
  • Better health benefits
    If your company institutes its own sick pay scheme, instead of your employees just relying on statutory sick pay, more employees will feel comfortable staying home and recovering when they’re ill. This will further decrease burnout and cut down on presenteeism – where employees come into work but are increasingly unproductive. 
  • Communication
    Lastly, take the time, whether through an open forum, survey, etc., to ask your staff what they feel affects their productivity and how the company could help them become more productive.  

ScheduleLeave’s staff holiday planner and reporting tools allow you to see which employees haven’t taken a day off in a while – and could do with a productivity top-up. Sign up for your free trial today.