How to avoid a homeworking burnout

Shropshire employees are working longer hours than ever, thanks to remote working. But are they working harder, or smarter?

Despite the perceived benefits of freedom and flexibility, experts warn that the lack of structured office hours is having a detrimental effect on work-life balance – and, therefore, the quality of their work.

The past two years have seen a dramatic surge in the number of Shropshire employees working from home for at least part of their working week, spurred on by the Covid pandemic.

In 2019, nearly three quarters of the working population stated that they ‘never’ worked from home, but by last year, this number had fallen to 64%.

Nationally, that means an extra 3.46 million people moved from never working from home to spending a significant part of the week doing so.

This meant that, last year 36% of all UK employees were working from makeshift spaces in kitchens, bedrooms, and playrooms.

Not only are more people working from home, but research from digital coaching group Ezra suggests they’re also working longer hours as a result.

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By measuring the amount of time employees spent logged into their company’s VPN network, it has been calculated that before the first lockdown, UK employees were working for an average of nine hours a day including breaks.

By January this year, this number had risen to 11 hours a day, ranking the UK second in the world for the speed of increase, only behind the USA.

And yet, it is suggested that despite the longer working day, productivity is not necessarily any higher.

Further research suggests that quality of work might be declining, as working from home has removed both daily structure and accountability for employees.

The lack of structure and constant accountability usually provided by traditional office-based working means employees are working long hours late into the evening.

Not only does this lessen the opportunity for real-time accountability, thus risking a drop in the quality of work, it also means employee wellbeing and mental health are under threat as jobs start eating into private lives.

Founder of Ezra, Nick Goldberg, says: “A lot of positive things have been said about the rising trend of working from home, including the fact that employees seem willing to work longer hours every day.

“But, while many observers will say this is because they want to work longer, or feel capable of working longer due to not having to commute, it’s just as likely that they feel obliged to work harder, too guilty to knock off at a decent hour as they would in the office.

“Structure and accountability are vital aspects of the working day and both ensure consistent and progressive action.

“What’s more, they both enable employees to gain some idea of whether or not they’re putting in a decent day’s graft. When working from home, structure and accountability become far less stringent.

“This can result in a sense of underachievement or lack of productivity for employees, which can, in turn, cause them to work longer and longer hours.

“But while we’re working longer, we’re not necessarily working harder or better, and our work-life balance is completely out of whack. This can lead very quickly to job dissatisfaction, frustration, and burnout . . . if not worse.”