Remote work and the culture of overworking

A new academic paper emerging from the University of Kent, King’s College and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) is shedding light on the ways in which remote workers across the United Kingdom may have a tendency to work extensively long hours, for different reasons.

Many studies have spoken to the productivity of remote and hybrid workers in comparison to those who work in-office full-time. It’s been shown that remote workers tend to be more focused, have fewer distractions and get more done in the day. 

Study: Remote workers often work late into the night. (Photo by Mizuno K on Pexels)

But this new research written by Heejung Chung of University of Kent and King’s College London, Shiyu Yuan of the University of Kent and Alice Arkwright of the TUC has taken a look at the other side of the productivity coin.


Remote workers have long hours

The study indirectly raised the question of whether those who work from home may be overworked, or may not actually have the work-life balance the working model normally boasts of. 

“We saw evidence of work intensification in the study, for example starting work early and not logging off in the evening,” the study outlined.  

“Others spoke of not taking as many breaks at home, compared to when working in the employer’s premises, where there were natural breaks due to speaking to colleagues, getting coffee, socialising with colleagues, etc.”


Possible reasons for overworking

In some cases, participants said they worked longer because of access to work equipment. For example, one participant spoke of the “temptation” to check emails and catch up on tasks over the weekend, whereas they wouldn’t have access to those tools if they had to go into an office.

In other cases, though, participants felt they were expected to put in more effort as something like overcompensating for the “privilege” of being able to work from home. 

Similarly, some felt they had to “prove themselves” or that they would be barred from promotions if they did not overexert themselves while working remotely.


BME home workers feel more pressure

BME workers feel extra pressure to overperform. (Photo by Hay Dmitriy on Deposit Photos)

For Black & Minority Ethnic (BME) workers, the pressure to perform “digital presenteeism”, as being always available when working remotely, was even more intense.

“Participants shared that the need to ‘prove yourself’ through presenteeism and long hours was intensified for Black workers who face the double burden of flexibility stigma and racism around their work ethic,” the study noted. 

BME participants described feeling insecure about being judged more harshly than white counterparts, and feeling obligated to constantly communicate about their whereabouts or tasks to avoid possible discrimination.

The study’s collaborators noted that the culture of overwork among remote workers is not ideal and should be addressed in various ways.

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