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Should checking emails on the commute count as work?

Should checking emails on the commute count as work?

It’s now easier than ever to check your emails anywhere, anytime, with most people carrying a smartphone and Wi-Fi becoming more ubiquitous. The downside of this is that it’s harder to switch off from work and with reliable Wi-Fi connections aboard your Kings Ferry coach, there’s a good chance you’re logging into your work inbox before you’ve even reached the office.

While many consider this to be giving them a head start on the day, they’re actually working for free. A new study from the University of West England has highlighted the issue and raised the question: should bosses be classifying commuting time where work is being done as part of an employee’s contracted hours?

The new research looked at 5,000 rail passengers as they commuted into London and monitored their behaviour as Wi-Fi became more widely available. It discovered that 54 per cent of those using the train’s internet were doing so to send emails for work.

Some people believe that this time spent outside of the office getting tasks done should be recognised and included as paid work. Others reasoned that they could not use the hours for many other purposes, so putting this “dead time” to use helped them get ahead.

Many employees have become used to getting work finished in their own time and completing it on the commute means it doesn’t eat into their evening when they get home. Parents also reported that the commute represented “a transition period” where they switched roles in their head and adopted their professional persona.

Some people said that they used the commute as a “buffer” between work and their personal life. There’s a lot to be said for clearing the mind and either gearing up for the day or leaving the stresses of work behind. Reading or playing a game on the phone instead of checking emails is preferable for these commuters.

Dr Juliet Jain, from the university's Centre for Transport and Society, said: "There's a real challenge in deciding what constitutes work." She added that counting the journey as work time could ease the pressure on staff and allow them to travel at non-peak hours, but it could also lead to businesses wanting more accountability for employees and the tasks they get done on their commute.

Jamie Kerr, of the Institute of Directors, said: "This increasing flexibility has the potential to radically shift the work-life balance for the better - but it also leaves open the door to stress and lower productivity.

"With the concept of clocking on and clocking off no longer straightforward, defining where leisure begins and work ends will be vital for both employers and individuals, as well as a complex task for regulators."


Photo credit: iStock/lechatnoir

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