Contractor Working Hours

Contractor Working Hours: What’s Normal & What’s Too Much?

People in the UK are working longer weeks than those in any other EU country according to research by the Trades Union Congress. The study found that full-time employees in the UK worked an average of 42 hours a week last year. This is equivalent to an extra two and a half weeks per year and was almost two more hours than EU employees typically worked.

The study only covered full-time employees and did not divulge which industries the employees worked in. However, it raises questions about finding a work-life balance and whether overworking also applies to those who are self-employed or contractors.

If you work for yourself and feel that you never have enough free time and are overworked, then we’re here to help. Read on for our guide to contractor working hours, what’s normal and what’s too much.

What is the standard for contractors?

There isn’t actually a clear-cut answer to this question as it varies by industry. According to UK employment law, people in standard employment can’t work more than 48 hours per week. There are certain exceptions for jobs that require 24-hour staffing, or those in the military or emergency services.

This is where contractors differ, as they aren’t bound by the standard 48 hours and 9am-5pm rules. Contractors can choose when they work and how long they work for. Another factor is the contracts that contractors choose to accept. These contracts may cover any number of hours a week, depending on the client and the amount of work required by them. As a general rule, particularly for industries like IT, many contractors work around 35-40 hours per week.

That said, self-employed people have been found to work longer hours than standard employees. According to data from the Office for National Statistics, more than 13% of self-employed people worked more than 60 hours per week in 2014. This was compared to just 4% of employees working the same number of hours.

Is this normal?

Although contractor working hours per week depend on the individual and the industry, working more than employees seems to be the current norm. It is important to question whether a longer work week is actually beneficial to wellbeing, happiness or productivity. Many people would argue that it is not at all.

The research by the TUC argued that despite UK workers working more than EU workers, productivity was reduced. In similar economies to ours, workers were more productive in each hour they worked than UK workers. German workers were found to have worked 1.8 hours less per week, for instance, but were 14.6% more productive.

How can I tell if Im working too much?

The answer to this question varies from contractor to contractor. While some people are happy always being busy and thrive off pressure, others like a more evenly spread-out work schedule. No matter which category you fall in, you should try and make sure that not every week is so busy that you feel overwhelmed.

Experiencing frequent or constant stress can be detrimental to your ability to work effectively and can affect your wellbeing. Over time it can cause anxiety and mood swings and could increase your risk of serious issues like high blood pressure and heart disease.

Here are a few common signs that you may be working too much:

  • Always rushing to meet deadlines
  • Unsure how you will get all of your work tasks done
  • Working into the early hours of the morning
  • Feeling that you don’t have any time for activities outside of work

What can I do about it?

There are several ways to cut down your workload and build upon your work-life balance.

Reduce work

You could calculate your weekly or monthly incomings and see if you actually need to continue with the number of clients you have. If the work you do sufficiently covers your outgoings and you are comfortable financially, cutting down could be an option. If you need the full amount of work that you currently do, don’t worry.

Stay organised

Try to work out a more organised schedule for your working week and stick to it. Don’t procrastinate or leave work until the last minute. You could also try talking to your clients about the deadlines they need work by. If they want it at any point during the week, don’t commit to a day when you already have a lot of work planned. Work around ongoing projects when you get more work offered and keep track of your work diary.


If you want to cut down your personal workload without turning down work you could consider hiring a subcontractor. If your budget allows it, consider outsourcing some of your work and working with another contractor or freelancer. That way you can maximise on your client connections and keep busy, but know that the extra work is being taken care of.

Umbrella companies

Sometimes, your ‘working hours’ can become dominated with basic admin like tax and invoicing. That’s not even mentioning the budgeting for your annual holiday leave or setting aside money for unexpected sickness. As a result, you spend less time doing chargeable work – what you do best – but still rack up the weekly hours.

With an umbrella company, all this is taken care of. They process your invoices and pay the correct amount of tax before sending you your take-home pay. Compliant umbrella companies also provide full statutory benefits like sick pay, holiday pay and a workplace pension.

Find the best umbrella for you

Like any product or service, umbrella companies vary in price and the features on offer. Using Umbrella Supermarket, you can find the best fit for you. Enter a few details like your typical monthly income and you’ll be given a range of quotes from leading providers including your estimated take home pay. Then, simply choose the best for you and enjoy life with more free time!

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To help make the decision that little bit easier, in this guide Umbrella Supermarket outline the key differences between limited vs umbrella, so you can get on the right track.

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