Are your employees overworked as a result of the pandemic?

January 20, 2021

In a recent article, I argued in favour of HR’s continued role in the mental health and wellbeing of its workforce. I talked about how this has been especially true since the global pandemic took hold in early 2020. In fact, if you were following this blog a few months ago, you might remember that in September, I warned that the mental health of your employees was likely to be much more fragile as a result of the continued lockdown. 

Now, as we get into the swing of 2021, I’m looking at another piece of evidence, which suggests that you might actually be overworking your people – without even realising it. And the research, undertaken by law firm Wright Hassall, brings some worrying statistics to the boardroom. 

Unpaid overtime has tripled for some workers 

According to the study, the average worker is now performing 9 or more hours of overtime per week. Compared to pre-pandemic figures, which were just 3 or more hours, the amount of overtime being worked on the whole appears to have tripled. 

What’s more, 52% of employees say they are not being paid extra for this overtime. 

I believe there are a number of reasons this could be happening – with a huge one being the difficulty many employees have with finding the correct work-life balance while working from home. In fact, many workers feel the need to put in extra hours, such as by answering emails outside of hours, just to prove to their boss that they are actually working and not slacking off in their pajamas.  

The study backs this up, with around 48% of business professionals citing lockdown for their extended working day, and with 1 in 4 saying that they struggle to switch off when working from home. Many employees declared noble intentions, and said they were working extra hours because they wanted to “support their company during an extremely challenging time”, but still struggled to cope despite the extra effort being intentional. 

The problem with burning both ends of the candle 

The reasons your employees are burning the midnight oil might be totally noble. It might be, as mentioned, that they’re trying to support your company through this challenging time. Or perhaps they’re simply losing track of time in isolation, or even feeling guilty about having to devote a little more time to home schooling or supporting loved ones.  

But whatever the reasons, burning the candle at both ends is not healthy. In fact, the Wright Hassall research revealed that:  

  • 34% of employees say unpaid overtime is making them feel more anxious 
  • 31% of employees say they are more stressed 
  • 28% of employees say unpaid overtime has negatively impacted their future commitment to the company 

Even if you don’t care about your employees’ health and wellbeing (although you should), that last statistic alone should scare the hell out of you. Because whether you’re encouraging unpaid overtime, or simply letting it slip past, you’re letting more than a quarter of your employees slowly lose their loyalty to your brand. And you might find that once this pandemic is over, and we begin to return to some level of normality, your employees begin to blink in the light, and look for a better work-life balance elsewhere. 

Advice on finding a good work-life balance when working from home 

If you want to help your employees find a better work-life balance while they’re working from home, then I’d strongly encourage the following three rules: 

  1. Set your business hours. Give your employees a strict start time, a strict finish time, and plenty of time for screen breaks. Make sure they know you’re expecting them to stick to it, and that you don’t want them working outside of these hours – even if they’ve not felt as productive as they might if they were in the office. 
  1. Create a schedule. Encourage your employees to create a schedule. Whether that’s a daily task list, or a weekly set of goals, it will help them to pace themselves and prevent them from bleeding over their time limits. 
  1. Have a dedicated workspace. When working from home, it’s so important to separate your place of work, from your places of relaxation. This isn’t possible for everybody, but encourage employees to work from a specific room where possible – preferably not their bedroom or living room. Using the same room for work and play is a double edged sword, because your various associations with that room mean you’ll likely have difficulty getting into the work mood on a morning, and difficulty switching off when it’s time to relax. 

For more tips on helping your employees work more effectively from home, see my blog article “9 ways to work from home”. 

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