Fears that e-presenteeism is driving down well being

Two new surveys highlight increases in work intensity since the lockdown, with e-presenteeism causing falls in overall well being.

woman stressed at desk


Heightened anxiety during the Covid-19 pandemic has led to employees working longer hours and taking fewer sick days, all the while becoming less fulfilled by work and life, according to a study by Aviva.

Aviva’s new report – ‘Embracing the Age of Ambiguity’ – shows the percentage of employees that have taken zero sick days over a three-month period has risen 17 percentage points since before the pandemic (67% to 84%), and more than a third (34%) said they have carried on working even when they felt unwell.


The report says ‘presenteeism’ has become even more noticeable since the pandemic began, with the merging of ‘home’ and ‘work’ and greater use of remote technology creating an ‘always on’ environment which is detrimental to long-term employee wellbeing.

Almost half of employees surveyed (44%) say they feel like they never fully switch off from work. Inability to switch is most severe among young adults (18-24-year-olds), with 63% stating that they regularly check emails outside of working hours, up from 48% in February.

As a result, more than half agree that they are neglecting their physical (58%) and mental (55%) health due to the pressures of work, and almost half  (43%) say that they are troubled by how much their work interferes with their personal life.

The report shows the number of employees who are ‘completely happy’ has gone down by over a third since February.

The report comes as another study shows the average worker is doing nine or more hours of overtime in a given week, compared to just three or more hours before the start of the pandemic.

Unpaid overtime

The survey of over 2,000 adults by law firm Wright Hassall also found that more than half (52%) are doing so without being paid for this.  Nearly half [48%] cite lockdown as the main reason for their extended working day while 41% say they are working extra hours to help support their company during an extremely challenging time.

Nearly a third of remote workers say they struggle to log off on time and 29% of those surveyed say they feel under pressure to perform due to a lack of job security.  Almost 28% say this has negatively impacted their future commitment to the company, while a quarter say they want a better work life balance and the same number say they want to feel supported.

Some 34% say they feel more anxious as a result of unpaid overtime, 31% feel more stressed, while a quarter struggle to switch off. Twenty two per cent say they have trouble sleeping, while 17% have lower job satisfaction as a result of longer working days.

In addition, the data revealed that 18% feel concerned that unpaid overtime will become the norm of their business even after lockdown ends.  The research also suggests many workers are not feeling supported by their employers –  49% say their employer does not offer any form of mental health support, while, of those who do, 23% say the support is inadequate and 19% are unaware how to access it.

Tina Chander, Head of Employment Law at Wright Hassall, says: “Not only has lockdown had a significant impact on businesses who are struggling financially, but it has also had an impact on their employees, many of whom are working extended hours trying to keep businesses afloat.

“It can be emotionally and physically draining to work extra hours for no additional pay, and even more concerning if you’re not receiving the right level of support from your employer  when overtime starts to affect your mental health. It’s important to raise any concerns with HR or your supervisor, to ensure you don’t suffer in silence.”

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