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‘Burning out’: Remote workers report paying a price for increased productivity

TORONTO — Remote workers in Canada are logging more hours, experiencing more stress, and feeling less engaged with their work, according to a new survey.

The online survey, conducted by ADP Canada and Angus Reid, asked 1,501 Canadians working remotely and in person to evaluate their experience working during the pandemic, including their work hours, productivity, engagement, stress levels, and quality of their work.

The survey found that 44 per cent of remote workers reported they were logging more hours of work than they were in pre-pandemic times. Of those, one in ten reported working an additional day, or more than eight extra hours per week.

In contrast, only 15 per cent reported working fewer hours and 38 per cent said there was no change in the hours they worked.

Janet Candido, a human resources professional of 20 years and founder and principal of Candido Consulting Group, said she thinks people are working longer hours because they’re not as busy in the evenings or on weekends due to pandemic-related restrictions.

“I heard this from my own team a year ago: ‘Well, I don’t have anything else to do so I might as well get this done,’” she told CTVNews.ca during a telephone interview on Thursday.

Candido, who was not involved in the survey, said workers’ output is increasing as a result, and this increased productivity has almost become an expectation.

“I don’t think it’s an expectation so much in terms of companies saying, ‘Well, now you can work 10 hours a day.’ I think the expectation is around the production,” she said.

It seems employees agree their output has increased as a result of their long workdays with 42 per cent of remote workers reporting that they feel more productive and 37 per cent saying they have noticed an increase in the quality of their work.

While increased productivity sounds good on paper, the survey also showed that employees’ stress levels were on the rise and engagement with their work was down.

Stress levels rose seven per cent over the past year, from 34 per cent in April 2020 to 41 per cent in April 2021.

In terms of engagement, the survey reported that 46 per cent of remote workers said they felt less engaged with their work since the start of the pandemic.

Candido said these findings should be a cause for concern for employers.

“They’re burning out,” she said. “They’re exhausted.”

WHAT CAN EMPLOYERS DO

Candido said a lot of employees haven’t been taking their vacation days during the pandemic because they’re not able to travel or do a lot of the activities they would normally do.

“They can’t go play golf, they can’t travel, they can’t go to a concert. So they kind of feel like it’s a waste of their vacation,” she said.

This only adds to employee burnout and stress, according to Candido. To prevent this, she said employers should force their employees to take their vacation time so they can have a break.

And Candido says employers should strongly discourage workers from putting in longer hours on the job.

“[Say to them] ‘I don’t want to hear from you after six o’clock, I don’t want to hear from you on the weekend.’ If you don’t reward it, the behaviour will stop eventually,” she said.

Candido also recommended that employers pay close attention to their remote-workers’ mental health and well-being by scheduling regular check-ins.

“Do you see signs of anxiety? Are they short-tempered? Do they appear to be really tired? Or, like, ridiculously awake? Are you seeing any signs that not all is well? And then you have to address it,” she said.

From her own experience, Candido said she’s had employees tell her they’ve really appreciated hearing from their manager or their supervisor while they’ve been working from home.

“They’re not telling me that they’re happy their manager called to find out if the report was done on time, they’re happy the manager called just to check in on how they’re doing,” she said.

Candido said it’s also important for companies to have mental health resources available to their workers, even when they’re not physically in the office.

“We all pay lip service to it, but it’s not always effective,” she said. “So they have to put more effort into making those resources available and making it OK for employees to access them.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, here are some resources that are available.

Canada Suicide Prevention Helpline (1-833-456-4566)

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (1-800-463-2338)

Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566 or text 45645)

Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868)

If you need immediate assistance call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.

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