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Workplace Culture

Work-home boundaries are blurring as people log more hours on the job

Meghan McCarty Carino Aug 25, 2020
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Leon Neal/Getty Images
Workplace Culture

Work-home boundaries are blurring as people log more hours on the job

Meghan McCarty Carino Aug 25, 2020
Heard on:
Leon Neal/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

For the millions of workers who suddenly went remote during the pandemic, the boundary between work and life has become more muddled than ever. A lot of folks are juggling jobs and kids at home. Without commutes, workers are actually logging more hours, multiple surveys show.

Now the Department of Labor has issued guidance, reminding workers and their employers to accurately track those hours so that workers get paid for their time.

Omar Zaki has been working from home as a sales engineer in Atlanta for years, but with the pandemic, his 6- and 4-year-old are home, too, and he’s worried about potential job cuts at his company.

“You’re just on duty all the time,” Zaki said.

He finds himself working longer, later hours, though some of them aren’t as productive as he’d like since he and his wife tend to the kids during the day.

“What is a work hour has become muddied for me and everybody that I work with,” he said.

Zaki is on salary so he doesn’t punch in on a timecard. But for those who do get paid by the hour, how do they keep track?

“When working remotely, you don’t necessarily have the same checks and balances and the same protocols in place,” said Jeffrey Ruzal, an employment law attorney in New York.

Because people aren’t clocking in at the office or working a traditional eight-hour day, Ruzal says that could expose employers to lawsuits for unpaid work. That makes it all the more important to encourage employees to accurately report their hours, odd as they may be.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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