A 2021 report by independent think tank Autonomy highlighted the fact that many UK workers are now working (unpaid) overtime and are suffering the consequences mentally. In a scathing report, the authors argued that we all have a ‘right to disconnect’.
We were intrigued but frankly shocked at the findings so we conducted our own LinkedIn poll to find out more. What we found confirmed that workers are indeed struggling with the long hours and remote ‘presenteeism’ is a very real problem. Indeed, only 1 in 4 (26%) said that they weren’t working extra hours and were fine; the remaining 74% were either putting in overtime, struggling with their mental health or both, which points to a very real problem.
Although almost 1 in 3 (32%) told us that they are feeling fine despite working more hours than their contracted amount, irrespective of whether they were working those extra hours or not, 42% were struggling and not able to switch off while over half (58%) were working overtime. This is clearly an extremely worrying trend as the mental toll will adversely affect those people’s wellbeing.
Commenting on the findings, Professor Sir Cary Cooper CBE, Professor of Organisational Psychology & Health at Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester, said, “The majority of people who are working remotely are over-working and have trouble disconnecting, with just under half of those not coping with their workload and disconnecting from the tech. This should be less a problem as we move from remote working to a hybrid model of flexibility.”
Research prior to the pandemic from Vitality, the health and life insurance services provider, revealed that illness related absences and presenteeism cost the UK economy an estimated £92bn in 2019, which equated to a loss of 38 days per employee. Productivity had taken a huge hit as a result, which meant that the UK’s first productive day of 2020 was actually 21 February!
So what is causing this digital presenteeism and what can be done about it? There is a lot of pressure for workers to be ‘on’ all the time as they are worried that their managers might be checking in on them and concerned about their livelihoods. Many feel the need to prove their loyalty and commitment to their employer, and working from home makes it harder to separate work from home life.
It has also become much harder for us to ignore work communication whether we’re at home or not. Thanks (really?) to our smartphone apps, we’ve become used to checking work emails and messages no matter what time of the day. While remote working ought to mean more flexible working and freedom, the reality is very different for the majority as we’ve become slaves to technology and can effectively work from anywhere in our homes.
Leaders, managers and HR teams must not only take the lead and check in on mental health of their people but they must actively encourage their teams to take breaks. Importantly, each individual is different and with the return to the office for some, a working pattern ought to be agreed to suit the individual and ensure that they can maintain a healthy work-life balance. “Even in the hybrid model, people need to organise their day to ensure switch off time, and provide some structure to their working week,” adds Professor Cooper.