Extended Availability of Public Servants for Work from Home During Non-Work Time in the COVID-19 Pandemic.

AuthorMar, Spela
  1. Introduction

    Global changes, including the proclaimed COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 by the World Health Organization (WHO), affect organizations. Countries and organizations have taken various measures to protect human health, which in turn affect the dynamics and changes in the organization of work and the working time of employees. In practice and literature (CIDP, 2021; Eurofound, 2021; McDermott and Hansen, 2021; DeFilippis et al., 2020; ILO, 2020; McCulley, 2020; Reisenwitz, 2020; WEF, 2020) it has been found that working time for employees who worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic was extended and because of that, they were overworked and constantly available for work because of use of information-communication technology (ICT), which affected their well-being.

    In the European Union (EU27), in July 2020, the largest number of employees who worked from home were from the service sector, mainly in education and public administration, and slightly fewer from the healthcare (Eurofound, 2021). However, employees who worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic performed work during the rest period time (CIPD, 2021; Eurofound, 2021; Ahrendt et al., 2020; DeFilippis et al., 2020; ILO, 2020; McCulley, 2020; Reisenwitz, 2020; WEF, 2020). Not even public servants in the Slovenian public administration were exempted from this.

    Some of the most important parts of the employment relationship are the working time and the rest period of employees. Minimum standards in the EU regarding the organization and duration of working time and rest periods are laid down in legal regulations, but the most important is the Directive 2003/88/EC (Sencur Pecek, 2018). In Slovenia, the legal regulation of working time and rest period time of employees is defined in the Employment Relationships Act (ZDR-1), which is based on the directive and applies to public servants in Slovenian public administration. Working time means 'any period during which the employee is working, at the employer's disposal and carrying out his activities or duties, in accordance with national laws and practice' (Article 2 of Directive 2003/88/EC). Rest period time, however, means any other time that is not working time (Sencur Pecek, 2019 apud Bencan et al., 2019) and is intended for rest and entertainment of employees to take them away from work (European Commission, 2017). In Slovenia, full-time work may not exceed 40 hours per week (Articles 142 to 143 of ZDR-1). A minimum daily rest period includes 11 consecutive hours and a minimum weekly rest period of 35 uninterrupted hours (Articles 3 to 5 of Directive 2003/88/EC; Article 155 to 156 of ZDR-1). Employees are entitled to annual leave for a minimum period of four weeks (Article 7 of Directive 2003/88/EC; Articles 159 to 162 of ZDR-1). For public servants, there are some special features in relation to working time, which are regulated by other legal principles (1). We will use the term 'non-work time' instead of the rest period time in our article.

    The purpose of our article is to determine whether there is a correlation between work during non-work time and extended availability for work in the Slovenian public administration among public servants who worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. The aims are (1) to analyze the obtained data of our survey of the Slovenian public administration in February 2021 and based on this (2) to describe the phenomenon of work during non-work time and extended availability for work and (3) to explain how work during non-work time affects extended availability for work of public servants who worked at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on this, the research question in our article is how public servants in the Slovenian public administration, who were ordered to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, are constantly available for work during non-work times and consequently are excessively available for work.

    In the introduction, we present the literature review and the hypothesis, a description of the methodology, the procedures, participants, the research instrument, and the results in the field of extended availability for work of public servants to work from home during non-work time in the COVID-19 pandemic. In the discussion part, we provide key findings of our research. The final part of the article is a conclusion with implications and limitations.

  2. Work during non-work time and extended availability for work

    2.1. Work during non-work time

    With the announcement of COVID-19 and the measures that were taken, it is reasonable to assume that workers began to work from home and during non-work time. Non-work time is the time before or after the end of official working time during which employees are entitled to a daily rest period. However, it also includes weekly rest, annual leave, and sick leave (Mar and Buzeti, 2021) and is intended to allow employees to relax and enjoy themselves and thus be free from work obligations (European Commission, 2017).

    During the COVID-19 pandemic (April-May 2020), 21.6% of the respondents in Slovenia started working from home, which is significantly lower than the EU27 average, where 36.3% of the respondents worked from home (Eurofound, 2021). In Slovenia, from November 2020 to mid-May 2021, 11.5% of employees worked from home, 8.5% in combination, and 67.2% at the employer's premises (SURS, 2021). According to Eurofound (2021) data, 57.2% of the respondents in Slovenia worked outside working hours in the period from April 2020 to March 2021. This is 3% more than the EU27 average, where 54.2% of the respondents worked outside working hours in the same period.

    Employees around the world are facing many problems. In addition to increasing their working hours by 48.5 minutes, the duration of their meetings has increased by 12.9%, or 18.6 minutes, even though their number has decreased. Among employees working from home, almost 5% more emails were sent (DeFilippis et al., 2020). In EU27, employees worked longer or additional hours (McCulley, 2020) and in the period June-July 2020, they worked on average 41.6 hours per week. However, in Slovenia employees worked almost 10 hours more (51.3 hours) than in EU27 (McCulley, 2020). Due to the physical separation of work teams, employees worked via ICT and were constantly available to their managers, colleagues, and customers. They spent more time on virtual meetings and caring for dependent family members. Hence, they worked during the non-work time (in the morning or in the evening) (Reisenwitz, 2020).

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, a trend toward greater flexibility in work performance was observed among workers in various organizations. At the same time, the greater benefit of working from home was perceived by men, who found it easier to manage the number of hours worked than women (because of childcare, and housework). However, both experienced an increase in work activity of almost 20% or 8 additional hours of work per week. At the time the pandemic was first declared, about 24% of workers were working two additional hours on weekends, and the proportion of these workers declined by 4% toward the end of the pandemic. However, it is still typical for some workers to work early mornings and late evenings (McDermott and Hansen, 2021).

    In addition, employers discovered the phenomenon of 'leaveism' among employees, i.e., they work outside of working hours while on leave or sick leave during the pandemic COVID-19. At least 60% of employers confirmed that their employees worked outside of working hours, and 70% noted that employees took assigned days off or annual leave to work. As a result, foreign organizations are already taking steps to eliminate 'leaveism' among employees. However, there are still 47% of companies that do not eliminate 'leaveism' because it is not perceived by employees (CIPD, 2021). According to research results (CIDP, 2021; Eurofound, 2021; McDermott and Hansen, 2021; DeFilippis et al., 2020; ILO, 2020; McCulley, 2020; Reisenwitz; WEF, 2020), we hypothesize that:

    Hypothesis 1: There is a correlation between public servants in the public administration in Slovenia who worked from home during the COVID-19 pandemic and work during non-work time.

    2.2. Extended availability for work

    By entering an employment relationship, the employee becomes available to the employer. This means that the employer and the employee control the employee's work behavior within a certain working time (Bergman and Gardiner, 2007). However, due to the possibility of using ICT, employees work and respond to work demands even during non-work time. In the literature (Thorel, Pauls and Goritz, 2021; Cooper and Lu, 2019; Dettmers, Bamberg and Seffzek, 2016) the concept of extended availability for work (2) is used to perform work and reach employees during non-work time. The latter means the state of availability of employees for work-related matters formally during non-work time, but during this time (e.g., due to the possibility of using ICT) the employees respond to work requirements for various reasons and perform work obligations. 'Extended availability for work is a multifaceted concept, which includes long hours and overtime of employees, the concept of presenteeism, when employees are present at work despite ill health and 'leaveism' when employees use flexible forms of work, rest days, and the right to annual leave instead of sick leave due to their own ill health...

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