A woman working from home

Has working from home left you doing more overtime? Here’s how to get things under control

Posted by for Mental Health

According to new figures from the ONS, those working from home completed an average of six unpaid hours every week in 2020.

Over the last year, a lot has changed when it comes to the UK’s working culture. Long gone are the days of hour-long commutes and hot-desking in cramped offices – in forcing us to reimagine the ways in which we go about our lives, the coronavirus pandemic has opened our eyes to the potential benefits of working from home, from giving people more time to spend with their friends and family to allowing companies to make they ways they work more inclusive.

However, for many people, there have also been some downsides to this new arrangement – especially when it comes to setting boundaries and maintaining a work/life balance. And one of the main consequences of this struggle to set boundaries has been the increase in the number of people working unpaid overtime as a result.  

Although it was previously believed that remote working could be part of the solution to the ‘always on’ burnout culture that dominated the UK’s approach to work before the pandemic, it’s clear that hasn’t always been the case: according to new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), those who worked from home in 2020 worked around six hours of unpaid overtime each week on average, nearly double the amount of unpaid overtime done by those who never worked from home (3.6 hours).

While we mustn’t ignore the fact that those who have been able to work from home were able to protect themselves from being exposed to Covid-19 in a way those who were unable to work from home weren’t, it’s interesting to consider how big of an impact merging your work and living spaces can have.  

However, it’s worth noting that these results are far from surprising – in fact, they’re further confirmation of a trend we saw in the first half of 2020.

Indeed, in a study of 2000 UK workers published by the flexible workplace provider The Office Group (TOG) last summer, 51% of respondents said they had been working outside of their contractual hours since the beginning of lockdown last March, with the average worker putting in an extra 59 hours of work (the equivalent of seven working days) over the five months from March to August.  

There are a number of reasons why this is the case – on top of the pressure to be online and ‘prove’ we’re working to our managers and colleagues (a phenomenon called ‘digital presenteeism’), as we’ve already mentioned, working from home has also led many of us to blur the lines between ‘work’ and ‘play’.

“Waking up in our ‘office’ can see us very quickly blurring the boundaries between work and downtime,” explains Dr Sarah Vohra, consultant psychiatrist and author of The Mind Medic.

“Our working day may start as soon as we fire off that first email, barely having got ourselves out of bed. Come the end of the day, we may feel guilty as we attempt to unwind but are surrounded by visual reminders of the working day – laptops, work papers etc. – that make switching off difficult.”

How to stop working excessive overtime while working from home
“Continuing to work longer hours has been shown to increase depression and anxiety symptoms and can negatively impact sleep, leaving us more tired and susceptible to burnout.”

While it may not feel like much to work an extra 45 minutes at the end of the day, in the long run, regularly working longer hours can take its toll on our mental and physical health.

“Continuing to work longer hours has been shown to increase depression and anxiety symptoms and can negatively impact sleep, leaving us more tired and susceptible to burnout,” Dr Vohra points out.

If you’ve been working extra overtime during lockdown, it’s important to take a step back and reflect on the impact this hard work might be having on you. When you live in the same place you work, it’s all too easy to let your work life creep into your free time – but, as Dr Vohra points out, this could be having a bigger impact on you than you might think.

With this in mind, we asked Dr Vohra to share some of her top tips to help us avoid the urge to work overtime while we’re working from home. Here’s what she had to say.

1. Take regular breaks

“When we are working longer hours, we’re less likely to be taking regular breaks,” Dr Vohra explains.

“Breaks are hugely restorative and important – they allow us to stop stress from accumulating early on in the day and support a quicker recovery come the end of the working day.”

2. Have a simple routine

“A routine helps to make clear distinctions between your day and night (work and play),” Dr Vohra says. 

“This will stop you running into the trap of working every waking hour without pause.”

She continues: “Set yourself a regular ‘start’ and ‘end’ time; avoid the temptation of checking your devices before you officially clock on and turn your devices off at the end of the day, putting them away.”

3. Take time to exercise

“Make the time to exercise your mind and body every day, whether that’s through a HIIT class, meditation or short walk,” Dr Vohra advises.

“[Doing so] will help to clear your mind and enable you to switch off at the end of a working day, something that is usually supported by our daily commute.” 

For more information on how to maintain a healthy work/life balance while working from home, you can check out our guide.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.

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