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‘Fat Cats’ get the publicity, but most directors work 50 hour weeks


The excesses of a few fat cats may make the front page, but behind the scenes, the majority of Britain's company directors consider a 50-hour week the bare minimum.

Long hours are the norm among the UK's captains of industry, according to the latest figures from KPMG and Director's survey of Britain's wealth creators.

Half of the respondents work longer hours than in 1999, with the common working week at 51 to 60 hours. For growing businesses, the working week can be unending. Ben Finn, who founded his business, Sibelius Software, seven years ago, says:

"I used to work at least 11 hours a day, six or seven days a week - certainly more than 60 hours a week. But now we've grown and I've got more staff and they do more of my workload."

The contest for most hard-working director is fierce. Chief executive officers take first place, with nearly half working more than 60 hours a week. Partners come in second, and chairman close behind with just under one-third working more than 60 hours. The most relaxed boardroom presence has to be the finance director: 44 per cent make ends meet without working more than 50 hours a week.

The survey, carried out by Director Magazine and supported by leading accountants and business advisors, KPMG, polled 50,000 business leaders. It also found larger company directors tend to be more likely to take time off - more than half take over 20 days of holiday a year. By contrast, 17 per cent of those with less than five staff take less than five days holiday each year.

The hard work is paying off, though, as the survey finds:

Britain's directors have had a fruitful year. The survey showed less than 15 per cent of respondents reporting poor performance this year. And next year looks set to be even more promising, as nearly 80 per cent of directors responding to the survey are looking forward to higher profits in 2001.

Directors claim to be driven by job satisfaction and personal achievement, but making money is among the top three motivating factors.

Among the senior executives polled, 22 per cent put their success down to hard work and market growth. The next most popular reason for success was the workforce, but only 5 per cent gave senior management the credit for improved performance.

"Many UK businesses have adopted prudent growth strategies, says Mark Hunt, national head of KPMG's owner managed business team.

"Since the last recession, we have seen business owners being more cautious in extracting profits from their businesses, this has led to them taking reduced salaries, bonuses or dividends out of the business and effectively financing their companies through increased levels of reserves."

David Hands at the Federation of Small Businesses thinks the current optimism among Britain's directors has a lot to do with the Web. "Over the last four years, small businesses have got to grips with the internet and so e-commerce has allowed them to access new markets," he says.

And the survey found that although only a small fraction of directors claimed to be fully automated e-traders this year, over 50 per cent expect half their sales to come from their e-business arm over the next few years.

But all this optimism has yet to hit at the heart of Britain's bosses: 60-hour weeks and the worry about finding the right skills to fit the business have taken their toll, and job satisfaction is down from 1996, when Director last polled its readers.

7 out of 10 directors find it satisfying to run their own business, but stress and low rewards were cited as the big detractors from success, and one-third of directors reckon their quality of life has not improved, despite higher turnover figures.

The results of the survey are featured in the September 2000 issue of Director magazine.


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