When millions of Americans shifted indefinitely to remote work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, nights spent working late at the office became a thing of the past. No more staying late at work because workers never went to work—physically at least.

But that, of course, didn’t mean workers weren’t putting in long hours.

Employees Working Longer in Different Ways

New forms of work creep have emerged, which may be all the more insidious because of how intertwined they are with aspects of workers’ lives that were normally considered within the personal sphere: working on vacation, responding to work e-mails at all hours, etc.

“Although workdays have been getting longer for millions of knowledge workers – and in many cases, more hours have become standard – plenty of work still happens outside the normal workday, no matter its length,” writes Sophia Epstein in an article for BBC Worklife.

Epstein points to a variety of “not-quite-work tasks” that can spread into our personal time:

  • Reading job-related articles over the weekend
  • Listening to industry podcasts while out on a run

Employees have, of course, been doing this long before the pandemic. Now, though, the lines between work and personal time—particularly for those working in hybrid or remote settings—have blurred.

Even If It Doesn’t ‘Feel’ Like Work, It May Still Be Work

“These hidden, even quiet, overwork moments may not strictly feel like work, but they still are,” Epstein writes. “And as this extra effort is morphing into a tacit expectation, it’s becoming harder for workers to shake off – subsequently, making it almost impossible to ever turn off.”

At first glance, employers might see this kind of hidden overwork as a boon for their productivity. After all, overwork means more work, which should mean more productivity. But the picture is a bit more complicated than that.

Burnout is a Real Risk of Blurring Work and Personal Lives

Most employees can’t realistically continue to be on the clock around the clock indefinitely. Overwork leads to burnout, which leads to lowered productivity. It can also contribute to decreased engagement and morale and employee turnover.

With many staff still working remotely, it’s important for employers to remain aware of employee workloads and look for early signs of burnout.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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