Working from home has created an "overtime epidemic"

Autonomy report calls for the Employment Rights Act 1996 to be amended to ensure workers have the 'right to disconnect'

Working from home during the pandemic has caused an "epidemic of hidden overtime", the Autonomy thinktank has warned. 

The organisation's latest report proposes drafting legislation that would create a "right to disconnect", which stipulates employees do not have to take calls or respond to emails related to work during their time off. 

Autonomy is calling for amendments to be made to the Employment Rights Act 1996 to ensure workers have the right to fully switch off from all work communications beyond their scheduled hours and to bring employment tribunals for any breach of that stipulation. 

"Modern workplaces and homes are digital spaces," the report states. "The fact that we are able to send and receive messages, emails, and online content twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week means that it is increasingly hard to disconnect, enjoy our leisure time and develop a healthy work-life balance. 

"This has created an epidemic of 'hidden overtime', where workers never quite 'switch off' and continue to do bits of work throughout the evening and weekend. 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 suggests that this has been a growing problem for a number of years but it has been "exacerbated" by the pandemic and the mass switch to remote working.

It highlights another study by the National Bureau for Economic Research that claims the number of meetings per person has increased by 12.9% over the last 18-months. The length of those meetings had actually gone down, on average, but overall the working day had consistently been extended by an average of 49 minutes, largely attributed to a greater number of emails being sent after standard business hours. 

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The enormous rise in overtime has come with the additional burden of poor mental health; by the end of 2020, the prevalence of mental distress among workers was 49% higher compared to 2017-19 and had increased across all major sectors, the report states.

The issue is particularly concerning for women, who are far more likely to shoulder the additional burden of childcare, housework and care for elderly family members, according to the report. 

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