Employees doing unpaid overtime and grappling with heavy workloads at a majority of small and medium businesses in the UK are exposing their organisations to phishing attacks and other cyber threats as stress in employees impact their focus and alertness levels.
Recently, a study carried out by the Trades Union Congress found that workers at public sector and private organisations in the UK put in as much as £32.7 billion of unpaid overtime, with more than five million people putting in an average of 7.5 hours a week in unpaid overtime during 2018.
While workers at public sector organisations contributed £12 billion of unpaid overtime last year, workers at private organisations contributed nearly £20 billion of unpaid overtime. While 1 in 4 public sector employees worked unpaid overtime, nearly one in six private sector workers put in unpaid overtime last year.
"Lots of us are willing to put in a few extra hours when it’s needed, but too many employers are taking advantage. Overworking staff hurts productivity, leaves workers’ stressed and exhausted and eats into time that should be spent with family and friends," said Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary.
High workloads affect employees' focus and alertness levels
According to Paul Barnes, Senior Director of Product Strategy at Webroot, this is a very dangerous trend as excess workload and stress negatively affects the vigilance, focus, and alertness levels of employees at organisations and this exposes organisations to phishing attacks and other cyber threats.
"Employees are on the frontline of cyberattacks and it is critical that they are alert, vigilant and focused. Stressed employees are likely to be distracted and accidentally click a malicious link, potentially allowing cybercriminals to access and paralyse a network or steal valuable information.
"In addition, businesses risk losing internal advocates who prioritise protecting the business if employees are overworked and disengaged. The potential for the emergence of insider threats becomes very real the more disgruntled the workforce becomes," he said.
He added that modern workplaces require their workers to work remotely and on their smartphones or personal devices even when they are at home, thereby making it difficult for employees to maintain a work/life balance. Considering that employees represent a significant cybersecurity risk to an organisation, stress in employees tends to amplify this risk.
Research by Webroot has revealed that additional workloads and increased stress among employees have exposed 63% of UK SMBs to cyber attacks due to mistakes committed by employees as a result of high workloads.
"This year, business leaders should focus on supporting their employees to ensure that they are prioritising their own health and well-being. It is crucial that overtime is kept at a minimum to maintain quality of work and bolster cybersecurity defences," Barnes added.