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Contractors in the financial sector benefit from flexible working, despite long hours

Contractors working in London’s financial sector are expected to regularly work over their contracted hours. However, in return contractors gain flexible working conditions, and for over two thirds of contractors there is no, or only some, impact on their work life balance.

This is according to a new survey of financial contractors by recruiter Morgan McKinley that also highlights most contractors feel obligated to work these extra hours and believe they remain highly productive during the extra time they put in.

“The statistics show that a culture of long working hours is still inherent in the City, even among contractors,” notes Morgan McKinley operations director Hakan Enver. “However, it’s interesting that a high proportion of contractors report that they believe the extra hours worked are productive.”

What hours do financial contractors work?

In its survey of over 200 London-based contractors across sub disciplines such as project and change, accounting and finance, operations, compliance, human resources and risk, Morgan McKinley shows that contracted hours mostly vary between 22 and 42 hours per week:

  • 56% are contracted to work just short of the classic contracting day, totalling of 33-37 hours per week
  • 36% have contracts specifying between 38-42 hours per week
  • A small number of contractors are required to work more than 43 hours per week, and others between 24-32 hours, or less than 24 hours.

When asked what hours they actually worked, the results were surprising:

  • An astonishing 76.5% of contractors work more than their contracted hours
  • Only 23% of contractors work the same as their contracted hours
  • Less than 1% work less than their contracted hours.

Interestingly, nearly two thirds of contractors felt obligated or very obligated to put in extra time, whereas only one in five felt ‘not at all obligated’ to work in excess of their contracted hours.

The statistics show that a culture of long working hours is still inherent in the City, even among contractors

Hakan Enver, Morgan McKinley

However, there are upsides, as Enver highlights: “Contractors who are paid on an hourly rate should not be too concerned about long hours as they will get paid for them.”

Some contracting roles are more demanding than other

When the responses are analysed according to the contractor’s role, it becomes apparent that some positions are more demanding than others. For example, 86% of project and change management contractors work more than their contracted hours, but only 40% of HR contractors do.

Furthermore, 29% of project and change management contractors feel ‘very obligated’ to work more than their contracted hours. No HR contractors feel very obligated to work more than their contracted hours, although 40% feel obligated.

Enver believes that the extra work put in by contractors may be: “…signifying the emphasis on temporary staff to prove their worth and make a difference in the role they’re undertaking.”

The impact of long hours on productivity and work life balance

Despite these long hours, contractors feel they are making a difference and it is not just ‘presenteeism’ that keeps them there before and after hours. 57% feel this way, confirming that they are productive during the extra hours they work.

Only a quarter of contractors don’t believe that they are productive during that time, and just under a fifth is not sure what impact the extra hours have on their productivity.

The impact of these long hours on contractors themselves is variable. Only 14% believe that working over the odds has no impact on their work life balance, and 42% say there is some impact on their work life balance. Slightly concerning is that 26% also believe that the extra hours impact a lot on their work life balance.

What contractors get in return for their commitment

In return, it seems that finance contractors benefit from a range of flexible working conditions. These include:

  • 50% of contractors can work from home
  • 58% can vary their working day’s start and finish times
  • 14% are able to work a four day week
  • 10% can work on job share basis.

“City employers are evidently waking up to the fact that contractors demand a work life balance just as permanent staff do,” continues Enver, “and there are options available for temporary professionals to help achieve this, such as home working, flexi-time and four day weeks.”

Contractors of course need to be aware of the IR35 implications of any ‘benefits’ that they receive. Flexible starts and finish times and working from home could be positive indicators that a contractor is outside of IR35, but only if this flexibility is granted without permission required and is not a mainstream employee benefit.

Enver concludes: “It would appear that the vast majority of contractors feel they have no choice but to work longer than their contracted hours, and in this case, it’s certainly worth them being aware of the options available to ensure they are adequately compensated.”

Published: 18 September 2014

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