Study suggests emails when commuting 'should count as work'

Commuters are spending so much time on work emails that this should be factored into working time, according to a study by the University of the West of England (UWE)

Researchers have suggested that the spread of mobile phones and access to Wi-Fi on train journeys has led to more workers using their morning and evening commutes to participate in work-related activities.

The study examined 5000 rail passengers travelling on the busy Aylesbury to London route and found that 54% of those who used the onboard Wi-Fi connection were doing so to send work emails. Others, meanwhile, were using their own mobile phone connections to do the same.

Participants informed researchers they felt this extra ‘work’ was necessary to manage their busy work and home lives, whilst others indicated it was good for their mental wellbeing to use this time to take care of extra work.

The findings of this study have raised the question of whether the daily commute has become part of the working day for many individuals and should be treated as such. Although current legislation states that time spent travelling to work for employees with a fixed place of work is not considered working time, employers should be wary of this practice.

Many readily allow this practice to take place, seeing it as an added bonus and a sign of a committed workforce. However, organisations should ensure they are not making this an obligation for staff as they could face accusations of failing to abide by the Working Time Regulations (WTR) or national minimum wage (NMW) law.

This was recently brought to light during an Irish tribunal in which an organisation was judged to have broken the WTR by requiring an employee to regularly deal with work emails outside of normal working hours, which resulted in the employee being awarded 7,500 EUR in compensation.

Instead, if organisations find that staff are regularly using commuting time to complete work they should ask themselves 'why?' Although it is easy to turn a blind eye to this, efforts should be made to ensure workloads are evenly spread and that staff feel able to speak up if they need assistance with their work duties. Line managers should also lead by example and refrain from working outside of normal working hours; in turn reducing any pressure staff may feel to comply and encouraging workers to use their free time for non-work related activities.

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