Remote work sees Australian workers clocking 319 hours of unpaid overtime a year


The explosion of remote work has led to a spike in the amount of overtime staff are performing, with a new report revealing Australians now complete an average of 319 hours of unpaid work annually.

Employees spent an average of 6.13 hours working each week on top of contracted hours this year, equating to about $125 billion in unpaid income, according to a report by the independent think tank The Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work.

It’s a worrying trend that employers should note, given the annual poll of 1604 Australians found that the figure is up from 5.25 hours of weekly overtime in 2020, and 4.62 hours of overtime each week in 2019.

Sean Gallagher, director of the Centre for the New Workforce at Swinburne University of Technology, says this increase in overtime shows employers need to double down on their remote work strategies to improve employee wellbeing.

“What’s happening is that the commute is being replaced by extra working hours,” Gallagher tells SmartCompany.

Gallagher’s own research into hybrid work has revealed some “worrying signals” for home-based, knowledge workers.

“[Remote workers] find that they’re more productive, better able to focus and are actually better able to take a break, but on the concerning side, they’re least satisfied with their jobs,” he says.

To improve staff satisfaction and productivity, Gallagher says employers should set up robust hybrid-work models that reduce overtime by allocating time for deep-focus tasks at home and collaborative tasks in the office.

“The job satisfaction needs to be a sharp focus of the employer to make sure those home-based workers are satisfied in their jobs, otherwise, they’re just going to go elsewhere,” he says.

The Australia Institute’s report also raises the question of whether employers should use surveillance practices to monitor remote workers in the long term.

More employers have adopted new technologies to monitor staff, with 39% of workers saying their employers track them with webcams and keystroke counters. A further 17% said they were unsure if their employer monitored them electronically.

The report recommends state governments consider adopting laws to regulate the electronic surveillance of employees, which NSW and the ACT have already done.

Commenting on the report, economist at the Centre for Future Work Dan Nahum said it was concerning to see more Australians arriving at work early and staying late.

“COVID-19 has made the situation worse, indicating work-from-home does not necessarily improve work life in favour of employees,” Nahum said.


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