In a remote world, is working overtime the new commute?

Data shows hybrid teams are most likely to work overtime, suggesting that when employees don’t have to commute, they put in extra hours.

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Helena Young
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Would you rather be stuck behind your work desk, or stuck in traffic? This is the Catch 22 that flexible workers might soon find themselves in, as a new study suggests that time saved by ditching the commute is instead being spent on overtime.

In an employee survey by software company Protime UK, one third of respondents in remote and hybrid roles said they were more likely to work extra unpaid hours while working from home, compared to what they might do in the office.

Losing the daily commute is one of the most appealing factors for employees who work from home. But Protime’s research suggests the benefit is being cancelled out by an avalanche of extra work for teams working remotely. Have we simply swapped one time drain for another?

Employees working longer as economy slumps

It’s no secret that the UK economy is in poor health. High interest rates and low productivity mean businesses have taken a battering. 

As a result, many organisations have laid off staff and paused pay rises, increasing workloads for existing employees. 

Protime UK’s new study paints a dismal picture of how these pressures are impacting the workforce. In total, the Protime research finds that 54% of company employees are now regularly working additional hours for free in the UK. According to the results:

  • 18% of employees now work between half a day and a day extra per month
  • 26% of employees now work up to a day extra per month 
  • 10% of employees now work between two and four days extra per month

Staff in the last group will carry out the equivalent of more than a month of unpaid work per year, totalling £1,560 per month if they are being paid the National Living Wage

Could a commute be better for wellbeing?

Protime also asked employees what the impact of working overtime has been on their wellbeing. The response was overwhelmingly negative.

53% said they have experienced an increase in stress and anxiety, while 41% of employees feel burnout. This aligns with Office for National Statistics data, which has shown a sharp rise in the number of people going on sick leave due to poor mental health. 

The fact that remote and hybrid workers are most likely to report working overtime may surprise those who have heralded flexible working as a way to improve work-life balance.

Blurred work boundaries, combined with growing to-do lists, is tying employees to the desk for longer. Concerningly, it could suggest that managers view the time saved from losing the daily commute as hours gained in the workday – and are upping workloads as a result.

According to government statistics, the average commute time in the UK is 28 minutes each day. That means, on average, travel to and from work will still not be as long as hours spent working overtime for the majority of hybrid workers.

However, some employees might decide that half an hour on a train or bus, or behind the wheel, is more attractive than a lie-in if it means they get to finish work at 5pm.

Return to office

Protime’s survey throws a curveball into the controversy around return-to-office policies.

The debate has seen many large businesses introduce RTO mandates as a way to entice remote teams back through the office doors, which a majority of the workforce has rejected.

Now, however, the promise of lessened working hours could provide a convincing incentive for staff members, some of whom are already being threatened with lost promotions and attendance tracking if they do not comply.

Of course, time is not the only factor in choosing not to travel into the workplace. For those who take public transport, costs saved on bus or train fares could outweigh an early finish. 

That’s why some offices have started to fund their workforce’s commutes, removing another barrier to the return to work.

The rise in remote work overtime is stealing from the promised benefits to work-life balance. Faced with mounting workloads, and rising stress levels, could a return to the commute soon be on the cards for UK employees? 

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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