Research in several countries has shown that the pandemic-induced shift to remote working has resulted in longer working hours for millions of people, thus fanning a longstanding debate on the need to grant employees a right to disconnect. This is a right for employees to switch off from work outside of normal work hours.
“For millions of us, working from home has felt more like sleeping in the office, with remote technology meaning it is harder to fully switch off,” Andrew Pakes, research director at Prospect, said.
Due to many workers being unable to switch off from work, a number of countries are advocating for legislation to make employees disconnect from work after hours, this is the “right-to-disconnect-regulations”.
Some companies are taking proactive steps to help employees leave work behind at the end of the day, either through pop-up messages asking the writer to think twice before sending an e-mail after hours. Other companies take the drastic step of switching off servers at night in order to make it basically impossible for employees to send e-mails after office hours.
What is the big issue with working long hours or excessive overtime?
Without a doubt, overtime can be beneficial for both employees and companies. It provides the company with the flexibility to cover unexpected absences and changes in demand without hiring more staff and it gives employees extra income at a premium rate, however, there is a downside to working excessive hours or excessive overtime.
Scientific studies have linked long working hours and the lack of weekend rest to an array of ailments including depression, anxiety, sleep impairment and high blood pressure. The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that working more than 55 or more hours a week can increase the probability of strokes by 35% and the probability of heart disease by 17%.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work. In addition, many businesses have been forced to scale back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours. No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease. Governments, employers and workers need to work together to agree on limits to protect the health of workers.”
Apart from the increased health problems, working excessive hours may also lead to an increase in safety risks due to worker fatigue, which could either be from a single long day or from the cumulative effect of multiple days of long working hours.
Increased working hours may lead to lower productivity. This may be due to:
Excessive worktime/overtime can lead to absenteeism as a result of poor health, fatigue, or people simply needing to take time off. Absences, more often than not, need to be covered by replacement employees, who are often required to work overtime themselves, making the problem self-perpetuating. This may also affect employee morale which in turn can impact productivity.
The adverse effect of excessive absenteeism will be increased turnover, as the lack of work-life balance and fatigue resulting from excessive overtime finally catch up with some employees. Again, as with absenteeism, companies with high turnover are also likely to have high overtime, as employees must work to make up for vacant positions if demand is to be met.
This self-perpetuating cycle is an indication that working longer does not mean working better.
What then is the solution as businesses increasingly embrace remote work arrangements as a long-term solution, with many planning to keep it in place after the pandemic?
With working long hours now being established as the risk factor and being responsible for about a third of the total estimated work-related diseases, there is a need for shifts in thinking and actions in regard to occupational risk factors to human health.
We cannot depend on our employers to switch off the servers at night or over weekends, or to set up pop-up messages to remind us not to work excessive hours. Individuals need to take responsibility for their own health and safety.
This includes putting in place boundaries between work and home life and implementing strategies to ensure effective working. These could include, amongst others:
Remember, you being a happy and productive employee is in your company’s best interest. This will keep you more engaged and able to contribute more and effectively.
This article contains information from: