Home working causing “epidemic of hidden overtime”

Women are particularly likely to be responding to work-related communications during their off hours.

16 Aug 2021| News

The rise in work from home arrangements during the pandemic blurred the lines between workers’ professional and personal lives, necessitating the introduction of a new right to disconnect, a think tank has said.

A new report from Autonomy warns that unpaid overtime – already a widespread issue prior to the Covid-19 crisis – has grown even more disruptive over the last year.

It said work from home arrangements have “created an epidemic of ‘hidden overtime’, where workers never quite ‘switch off’ and continue to do bits of work throughout the evening and weekend”.

It explained: “Being ‘switched back on’ by an employer after the working day has finished differs from standard overtime, whereby a worker is usually required to ‘stay on’. Instead, a call from an employer – and the response it requires – expands the working day fragment by fragment, meaning the worker is never quite ‘off’.”

The report proposes changes to the Employment Rights Act 1996, inspired by existing French legislation, that would give workers the power to take their employer to tribunal if they suffered any detriment for not replying to work-related communications – such as emails and phonecalls – outside of their contracted hours.

It is suggested this change would be especially beneficial for female workers, who have been found to be the biggest victims of unpaid overtime.

A study by Autonomy, Compass and the Four Day Week Campaign recently reported that women are 43% more likely to have been forced to work overtime and were more likely to experience distress as a result.

Will Stronge, Autonomy’s Director of research, said the pandemic has “accelerated the need to create much clearer boundaries between work-life and home-life”.

“By enshrining a right to disconnect in British law, workers will be able to take back some control of their lives,” he added.

“British workers put in longer full-time hours than most of Europe and action is needed at the level of government to address these fundamentally unsustainable working conditions.”