Sleep News

How The UK Spends Its Time

12 Oct 20185 min read

It’s only natural to wonder how your day compares to the rest of the UK. Feel like you never have enough time to unwind and pursue activities you enjoy? You’re not alone. Based on unique survey results and the latest ONS data, we’ve uncovered what the average Brit’s weekday looks like.

Here are the key points covered in our study:

  • ONS data shows that leisure time accounts for under 1/4 of each working day. Even more eye-opening, our survey shows that 40% of Brits claim to only have 1-2 hours a day to do things they enjoy.
  • 49% of Brits prefer or frequently consider spending their free time after work alone.
  • Women take on 60% of all unpaid work (i.e. childcare and cooking) leaving them with over half an hour less leisure time than men each day. The weekly value of unpaid work tackled by women is also higher at £259.63 compared to men’s £166.63.
  • Over 1/3 of our survey respondents weren’t in favour of a 4-day working week despite proven increases in both productivity and free time
  • The UK has the longest commute in Europe, with an average of 5 hours per week spent travelling to and from the office.
  • 1/3 of Brits would definitely, or at least consider, sacrificing a full night’s sleep to guarantee them more leisure time after work.

What does the average Brit’s weekday look like?

So, how does the UK spend the working week? We’ve collated data that shows how an average Brit’s weekday is broken up:

Working & Commuting: 8.5 Hours

While we may be working less than we have across previous decades (37 hours per week in 2018 compared to 38.7 in the mid-90s), those in permanent employment still, on average, spend over 1/3 of their time (35%) at work or travelling to and from their job Monday to Friday.

Our commute in the UK is the longest in the entire EU, clocking in at almost one hour per day. Here is how each region of the UK’s daily trek to and from work looks according to the most recent government figures:

It’s under discussion whether any work Brits do as they head to and from work (i.e. responding to emails) should count as part of their workday. Our survey data shows that this would apply to almost 50% of the modern workforce.

Then there’s the current discussion around whether a 4-day working week would be more beneficial for both the mental health of workers and the productivity of companies. Our survey found out how high the level of support to implement this in the UK actually is.

Interestingly, despite the inarguably low amount of free time that Brits have, over 1/3 of respondents aren’t on board with the idea of a 4-day working week. This begs the question, are we putting work before our mental health?

Unpaid Work & Miscellaneous Tasks – 2.9 Hours

The concept of unpaid work is one we’ll all be familiar with even if we haven’t heard the name. No matter how tired we are getting back from the often-stressful commute after a hard day at work there’s still plenty left to do. Cooking, cleaning, childcare – the list goes on. But who is doing all the heavy lifting?

The total amount of unpaid work put in by men averages out across the week at 2.3 hours per day while women are racking up 3.6 hours. So, while the overall average may sit at 2.9 hours, it’s women who are picking up the slack.

It’s not just the time spent, but also the value of weekly unpaid work that shows a gender disparity:

So, it’s not just that women do an average of 60% more unpaid work than men in terms of hours, they also more frequently perform tasks that have a higher value (i.e. childcare, cooking and housework).

Leisure Time & Personal Care – 5.8 Hours

With a limited amount of time to do the things we enjoy; our survey uncovered that 40% people feel that they only get 1-2 hours each day – how are Brits choosing to spend their well-earned leisure time?

The most popular of these activities – enjoying TV, music & reading – is often something people choose to do alone and, in fact, 49% of respondents said that they would prefer, or at least give serious thought to spending their free time by themselves.

This tendency towards solitary pastimes likely has something to do with the increasingly interconnected lives we lead through technology – leading people to try and carve out alone time wherever they can.

There is also a gender disparity between activities, with men preferring to watch TV and films or go out for nights out while women would rather spend their time dining at a nice restaurant with friends or pursuing more relaxing activities like hobby crafts. However, the more striking contrast is the difference in daily free time between the sexes:

The amount of unpaid work that women take on in comparison to men is a big factor in this, with men – even in this day and age – still less likely to help out with household tasks.

ONS figures may make it look as though we have a reasonable amount of leisure time day to day, however, over 60% of our survey respondents claimed that they only do things that they actually enjoy for up to 4 hours, with 40% of these stating that there are only 1-2 hours a day made up of truly fulfilling activities.

Sleep – 6.8 Hours

Despite seemingly taking up a sizeable amount of each 24-hour period, Brits still aren’t getting enough sleep. Our survey found that more people choose to head to bed between 11pm and 12am.

Our survey found that it’s women who are the true night owls, with the majority stating that they went to bed at 12am-1am as opposed to men’s more conservative preference of 10pm-11pm.

Late bedtimes and early rising to prepare for lengthy commutes make it almost impossible to get the necessary amount of shuteye to keep a person well-rested and productive. The recommended nightly sleep time is 7 to 9 hours and findings from the Royal Society for Public Health show that, at an average of 6.8 hours, we’re not quite hitting this target.

The amount of sleep we’re getting is at odds with how much importance we’re placing on it. We asked if Brits would sacrifice a full night’s sleep for some more free time during the week and this is what they said:

Despite feeling that they aren’t getting enough free time through the week, the majority of Brits realise the importance of sleep over leisure. So, it's interesting that we’re still falling short of the recommended amount as a nation, meaning that for all our good intentions, modern life will still get in the way.

For those that would definitely, or at least consider opting for more free time over a good night’s sleep, this could have negative consequences for both physical and mental health which you can learn more about in our comparison of UK and US work habits.

If you want to learn more about what's keeping Brits up at night, whether your partner's bad sleep habits could be affecting your health and a range of other topics – visit the Mattress Online blog.