For many workers, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant a sudden shift to remote work and a hybrid workplace.
Reduction in remote commute time and family time are some of the benefits being touted by both employers and workers. However, this flexible work model soon revealed a weakness — lack of work life balance.
Reports emerged of workers quitting jobs due to absence of fixed working hours, depleting mental health and WFH led burnout.
Research was conducted by Frontiersin to analyze the reconciling of work and private life of Latvian employees during the COVID-19 emergency situation in spring 2020.
The results confirmed the widespread reports of the lack of work life balance being experienced by workers.
The report found that the period seemed more stressful as workers “spend more time in meetings and webinars”. As such, the gap between working and family time blurred, making it difficult for workers to cope with.
In September 2020, LinkedIn released a survey that shows that nearly half of men and women said they were unable to focus on work with their kids at home.
Have things changed a year later?
Lengthening Work Days
According to a survey by Bloomberg, longer working hours are now normal for employees working from home. The survey shows that workers in the U.S have continued to maintain the 2.5 hour increase in workday that began during the pandemic.
Workers now put in over 10 hours against the 7-8 hours pre-pandemic work schedule.
Another report compiled by Hausman Johnson insurance indicates that the most challenging aspect of work from home setup is the expectation of always being available. Workers report receiving calls and emails outside their traditional work hours when working remotely.
This situation has affected work life balance as described by British neuroscientist Anna Louise Cox:
“WLB means feeling in control of how you balance the various demands of all aspects of one’s life to support and enable wellbeing. In this context, wellbeing is about more than just trying to avoid being ill, it also encompasses feelings of happiness, fulfillment and job satisfaction to achieve complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing.” Professor Louise Cox
This lack of flexibility in functioning in a professional field while maintaining the time and energy to spend on personal life has resulted in employee burnout. According to Forbes, “business hours” has morphed into “any hours”—or, more precisely, “all hours.
A majority of respondents to a LinkedIn survey state that flexibility about where they work has improved since the pandemic began, compared to the minority who said flexibility around when they work has improved.
Despite the realities of pandemic work life, employees are divided about going back to work. Data from a US poll in January showed that 44% of employees currently working from home want to continue, while 39% would want to return to the office, while others would want to do both.
Those in favor of remote working cited that they have more room to balance work, family, and leisure, the BBC reports.
According to a report from LinkedIn, 49% of workers want more flexibility over the hours and location of their work compared to pre COVID-19.
Other statistics show that 72% of employees consider work-life balance to be very important when looking for a new job.
While HR professionals realized the impact of the pandemic work life, they are recognizing the improvements.
In a report by Daily Advisor, Jessica Nguyen HR professional at Paycor stated that during the early months of the pandemic, employees were not requesting time off.
That has changed.
As workers become more comfortable in the new environment, they are starting to take advantage of their days off to unwind. “Rather than associates taking their PTO for large trips, they are using them for mental health days and staycations”, says Nguyen.”
In the same news report, Nate Tsang, CEO of WallStreetZen stated that there’s a shift in how employees are choosing to take time off. Instead of the lengthier single vacation, workers are taking a few recurring Fridays in order to have a three-day weekend.
However, it’s not all roses. Nguyen noted that some exempt associates are working during time off. According to her, it’s more challenging for the associates to fully disconnect when they are still physically in their home/office.”
Experts are optimistic about the post-pandemic worklife. Glassdoor’s Workplace Trends 2021 report highlights many positive changes to work in 2020 that are bound to continue and evolve.
Analysis by academics Jose Maria Barrero and Nicolas Bloom and Steven Davis showed that Americans have saved an 62.4 million hours of commuting per workday. Around half of this time has been spent on self development, household activities and exercise and childcare.
Experts predict that full-time work from home is likely to evolve into more flexible hybrid models. It is expected that 25%-30% of the workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021, according to Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics.