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

Posted by for Mental Health

According to a new study, the average UK worker has put in an extra 59 hours of work (the equivalent of seven days) over the last five months.

It’s strange to think how much has changed in 2020 when it comes to our working culture. Long gone are the days of hour-long commutes and hot desking in offices – in forcing us to reimagine the ways we live and work, the coronavirus pandemic has opened our eyes to the benefits of flexible working and working from home.

From giving us more time to spend with friends and family to allowing companies to make the way they work more inclusive, there are plenty of reasons why working from home has been a good thing for UK workers.

And while these downsides don’t negate the benefits many people have enjoyed as a result of working from home, it’s important that we address them if we’re to make working from home in the long-term a viable option.

One of the biggest negatives to working from home has been the amount of overtime many people have been taking on as a result. Although many saw flexible working as a solution to the ‘always on’ burnout culture and lack of work/life balance that dominated the working world before the pandemic, in reality, working from home has left many of us working more hours than ever before.

In fact, according to a new study of 2000 UK workers commissioned by the flexible workplace provider TOG (The Office Group) to launch its latest flexible working space United House in Notting Hill, over half (51%) of respondents said they had been working outside of their contractual hours since lockdown, with the average UK worker putting in an extra 59 hours of work (the equivalent of seven working days) over the last five months. 

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’), 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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