Quitting time comes later during the pandemic


FACTORY WHISTLES WERE A GOOD THING. They blew to begin the work day and to end it. The time to start work and end work—to down tools—was rigid and fixed. Not so now. Now, in the middle of this pandemic, people are working longer.

Researchers at Atlassian, a developer of workplace software, found that working hours started to lengthen in March, when most Western countries introduced lockdown measures.

In April and May the average working day was 30 minutes longer than it had been in January and February. Most of the extra toil tended to be in the evening.

Workers in different countries put in different amounts of extra effort. Israelis extended their day by 47 minutes on average, longer than anywhere else. South Koreans, in contrast, clocked up only another seven minutes and the Japanese just 16 (although both countries were already among the world’s hardest workers, recording an average day of almost seven and a half hours on Atlassian’s software).

Only Brazil and China recorded shorter working hours during the pandemic than before it.

The researchers also detected a small shift in how people spread their workloads over the day. By counting the number of users online throughout the day, they found that people were doing a slightly smaller proportion of work in the middle of the day and a greater share in the mornings and evenings than they did before the pandemic.

That may indicate that people were taking advantage of the extra flexibility afforded by working from home—but it also suggests that work was encroaching on what would have previously been free time.

Whether people will continue working from home in such numbers after the risk of covid-19 subsides remains to be seen. According to a survey by PwC, a consulting firm, 44% of American bosses think that their employees have become more productive during the pandemic, but only 28% of workers agree. Yet they see eye to eye on one point: bosses and workers alike would like to keep working from home at least a day a week. It may or may not be less productive, but everyone wants a bit more flexibility.


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