Working From Home, or Living at Work?

Hours of Work, Unpaid Overtime, and Working Arrangements Through COVID-19
by Dan Nahum

2021 marks the thirteenth annual Go Home on Time Day (GHOTD), an initiative of the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute that shines a spotlight on overwork among Australians, including excessive overtime that is often unpaid.

Last year’s report emphasised that 2020 had been extraordinary and difficult, and 2021 has brought little reprieve. Australia remains caught in ongoing and interacting twin crises: a public health crisis and an economic crisis. Each influences and reinforces the other.

Around a third of employed Australians continue to perform at least some of their work from home. As a result, the standard scenario of workers ‘staying late at the workplace’, which largely framed our analysis of excessive work time before the pandemic, is now supplemented by a different dimension of excessive work and unpaid overtime. Now we must consider whether home work will become the “new normal” for many workers even after the acute phase of the pandemic finally passes – and what new pressures on working hours, work-life balance, and unpaid overtime are unleashed by the work-from-home phenomenon.

Whether working from home or at a formal workplace, the problem of unpaid overtime (whereby workers are not paid for a significant portion of their work) continues to be severe. In fact, the estimated incidence of this ‘time theft’ has increased substantially compared with 2020. In many cases, people’s responsibilities in their home lives have increased in response to the health and social crisis, accentuating a double burden of unpaid work – one that is experienced disproportionately by women.

Since 2009, the Centre for Future Work and the Australia Institute have commissioned an annual survey to investigate overwork and unpaid overtime in Australia. This year’s poll of 1604 Australians was conducted between 24 and 27 August, with a sample that was nationally representative according to gender, age and state or territory. Of the 1604 respondents, 1048 (or 65%) were currently in paid work.

Our survey asked respondents about unpaid hours of work, preferences for more or fewer hours, family and caring responsibilities, and the balance between work and non-work life during COVID-19. This year’s survey also asked about electronic surveillance practices implemented by employers to monitor those working from home, and what workers thought about returning to the on-site workplace as the COVID-19 pandemic abates.

This report summarises the results of that polling, and places it in the context of national labour force trends.

Full report