Overworked and Underpaid: Oh How We Love to Complain About Those Extra Hours at the Office

23/03/2012 23:11 GMT | Updated 23/05/2012 10:12 BST

I'm 26 and I have never been on a permanent contract. In turn, I have never had the security of a guaranteed monthly paycheck. However, for me and my life, the benefits of NOT being on someone's payroll far outweigh my mild once-monthly panic as to where my next dollar will come from. I can honestly say, that one of the most liberating things about my freelance lifestyle is that when the clock strikes 6pm, I can leave the office. Completely guilt free.

Now, I want to stress that I am no stranger to hard work. When I AM in an office or assigned a task, I will do it to my absolute best ability. For the last 10 years I have hopped from job to job and I am consequently well versed in the nuances of office life. Most of it, I understand - and sometimes I'll even get involved in it - office politics are unavoidable for any stint over four weeks and I pride myself on knowing most, if not all, office gossip from the six or so places I frequent - but the one thing I will never get, no matter how many excuses people give me, is why people put themselves through the torture of working ever-increasing, un-contracted hours, every day, with no lunch break and no financial respite.

There are many, many people who moan about work. When you spend five days out of every seven in an office and not out in the world, surrounded by people whom you haven't chosen to surround yourself with and staring at a screen all day long, it's no surprise you'd want to vent. But as the years go on, I've realised that most people are still moaning today about the same problems they had two, three, four even five years ago. And frankly, it's starting to aggravate me.

I have identified five different universal and recurring topics in the average 'work bitching session' which include: the boss, money (and more specifically not earning enough of it), annoying colleagues, stress (insomnia, acne, constant illness and heart palpitations included) and the real crème de la crème of bitching... Working hours and their impact on your actual life.

I've met people who will do a 12-hour day, five days on the trot, without even batting an eyelid. They'll suffer through for the good of the team, for the success of the project and often because they believe there isn't any other option. After all, the work has to be done by someone, doesn't it? But why does it have to be YOU, my friend, when you've already worked all the hours you'll be paid for this week in one goddamn day?!

Right, I'm going to do some maths for you. In Office A there are 20 staff, each of whom are contracted a 40 hour week, 9-5, Monday to Friday. Now let's theorise that each person actually ends up leaving work at say (what's reasonable to assume?) 6.30pm. That's 1.5 hours extra, 5 times a week. That equates to 7.5 hours in a working week, which when multiplied by the total number of staff, equates to a staggering 150 extra hours a week total. That is the equivalent of three jobs. Three whole extra bodies. Three lots of 40-hour weeks, that are being mopped up in a collective effort by super-keen, yet unbearably dissatisfied, disillusioned and stressed out office workers.

Yep, that's right, giving up extra hours of your life doesn't benefit you. Not unless you're working on paid overtime (yeah, RIGHT, overtime basically doesn't exist anymore because no-one seems to claim it.) In fact, all you are doing is giving your workplace valuable hours of your time that you WILL NEVER GET BACK. When people are up to their eyeballs every day in high-stress careers, they stop working to maximum capacity and become increasingly disillusioned. It astonishes me how many people don't complain and just suffer in silence, preferring to regale their friends and colleagues with the same depressing stories, year on year, than ever taking it up with the boss.

Let me put it this way. You CANNOT be fired for turning up on time and doing your allocated working hours. Similarly, you can't be fired for taking a full hour's lunch break. On the contrary, it is your legal right, so why on earth would you continuously allow yourself to be worn down to the point where you hate yourself and your workplace so much that you can no longer function to your full potential? Not to mention becoming unable to have a glass of wine with a friend without telling them that: "I have to get a new job, I can't do this anymore..."

Ok, Timmy, whatever you say, I stopped believing that story 18 months ago.

Problem is, if you play the martyr and sit with a smile on your face, prepared to mop up all the extra work, forcing you (and inevitably your team - we all know innately that the workplace is competitive) to stay later and later, the big boys and girls in suits at the top of the company hierarchy, will be sitting there feeling extremely pleased with themselves that everything around them is working just fine. And why would they investigate otherwise?

Remember: "Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed..." and especially when there's money involved.

Perhaps if the powers that be actually saw the office fall apart, and witnessed their staff finally standing up for themselves, they might consider the fact that they need to bring in more bodies to help stimulate a better working environment. After all, there are over 500,000 unemployed 16-24 year olds in this country at the moment that would give their right arm for a job, placement or internship.

If you are working ridiculous hours to get things done, unfortunately, you only have yourself to blame. Go home when you are supposed to every night this week and see what happens. You might get a talking to by your boss, but I can guarantee that you won't lose your job. In fact, you might actually enjoy having the extra hour and a half a night to say, go to the gym... visit your grandma... or simply not think about anything related to the workplace.

Because not even the most amazing job that pays the most incredible salary is worth your health, your friends or your actual life.