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Does 'WFH' simply mean 'More Work'?

Remote work seems to be blurring the boundaries between home life and work life. As much as most of us are grateful for the added flexibility that work in Covid times seems to be affording us, it also looks like such flexibility is taking us in the unwelcome direction of longer and longer work hours.

Today we take a short dive into what might be driving this trend, and why more work might not be a good thing: not for businesses, not for workers, not even for the economy.

We currently work some of the longest hours in history. We not only work longer, we also work harder: the current workforce is the most efficient in history. KPIs are more and more scrutinized and increased year on year, and where #HustleCulture, #LifeHacking, and extreme #productivity are increasingly creating an unsustainable expectation to be "On" at all hours.

Since the great WFH Revolution that kicked in along with widespread lockdowns to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic early in 2020 we are now seeing a trend happening almost everywhere: people are working longer hours. Workers in Austria, Canada, the UK and the US are now logging an additional 2.5 hours of work each day, and this is gradually setting up a "new normal" of longer work days in average.

Leading the table are the US and UK, with an increase of 2.5 hours per day.

But there is a worrying trend across the board:

longer work hours for remote and stay at home workers
Virtually every country has seen an increase in daily hours worked. Source: Bloomberg

Why is this happening?

Various factors could be driving this, from an economic downturn making the possibility of business failure terrifyingly real and putting extra pressure on workers at all levels of a company to work harder to ensure the business pulls through this challenging time; to a reduced workforce putting pressure on the remaining people to pick up the slack; to a loss of structure to the workday across the board, together with a desire to "stay ahead of the curve" with customers, prompting more out of hours work.

Lastly, old-fashioned managers might simply have problems trusting that their people will do the work with reduced supervision, from another location, and left to get on with their workload autonomously (gasp!). These types of managers can end up trying to mitigate this anxiety by putting their their workers under increased pressure, counterproductively interfering with their work, increasing their stress levels, and reducing their productivity - setting up a vicious circle.

Another factor to not discount is the effect of lockdown itself, and how it has been widely reported to affect just about everyone, with increased rates of anxiety, depression, and for those who derive a lot of meaning in their work from a sense of connection with colleagues and peers... a general loss of meaning. All of these, in isolation or combined, can leave individuals feeling less effective and less productive. They in turn might end up trying to compensate for this by working longer hours (I've fallen into this trap many times!). The longer hours then drive fatigue and added stress, decrease rest quality and set the scene for a less productive day... which we will attempt to mitigate by working long hours again, and... you get the picture.

This is not a good cycle to be in and it's a fast train to Burnout Town.

How longer working hours affect individuals

  • Increased rates of depression, anxiety and generally poorer mental health;

  • Increased rates of exhaustion, burnout, and generally poorer physical health

  • Overworking is likely to interfere with our self-care, so we will exercise less, and likely turn to junk food or emotional eating

  • Reduced productivity... for all the reasons above!

But also... and surprisingly:

  • Increased rates of poverty, because:

  1. Working longer means less time for personal and professional development: it means less time to develop side businesses or one's dream "billion-dollar idea", and less time to continue developing yourself professionally through study and development of skills

  2. Even though the over time isn't paid, it's still part of the job, so if we calculate the hourly rate with these increased hours factored in we might find a disturbing trend: together with wage stagnation, working more and more hours for the same money simply means we are working for less and less money.

I'm a business owner, surely this is a good thing for my business?

Indeed, and particularly in these cash-strapped times, it would seem that keeping costs down would be a no-brainer:

lower costs --> increased margins --> increased profit = ultimate goal.

The picture is, however, a bit more complex:

By forcing workers to effectively working for less and less money we, business owners, are damaging the economic environment which our businesses need in order to thrive.

There is also a wider economic impact of an overworked workforce, and the video below tells us why we should all care:

The takeaway:

This might sound counterintuitive, but: reduce your hours in order to produce more.

We are certainly not the only ones talking about this:

It's hard to be the first one to push for this, especially if your power within the company is limited, but you can always call your manager or boss's attention to this blog post, or to any number of resources out there.

Here at nimbld we are passionate believers in efficient work done with purpose, and in focusing on output more than the hours worked.

We will be producing more content on this in the near future - please don't forget to SUBSCRIBE below so you don't miss it!



If you have empty offices as your team works remotely, remember that you can list these on NIMBLD for free, so you can hire them out to local WFH'ers nearby - of course, doing this when lockdown lifts, and with the appropriate precautions! This will help you recoup some of your office costs, and we trust this could very much help small businesses stay afloat during this crisis. Any listings you create can easily be taken offline as restrictions tighten, and reactivated once they ease, making us a key tool in helping you navigate these difficult times as a business owner.

We can do this. <3

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