Work-life balance in jeopardy: New Adobe research reveals the impact COVID-19 has on our time

Woman with headphones in looking at a laptop screen.

The past year has forced us to reevaluate what’s important, what’s not, and what we want more of. And for a lot of us, we want nothing more than the gift of time.

Around the world, an increasing number of people feel stressed, stretched and burnt out. Remote work, while introducing some much-needed flexibility to the workday, has also increased expectations for workers to be on call and always on. The already blurry line between work life and personal life has, for many, been scrubbed away entirely.

As we enter the future of hybrid work, Adobe surveyed 5,500 people — enterprise workers and small-to-medium business (SMB) owners — across seven global regions, asking respondents where they feel the most time pressure and how it has impacted their work and personal lives. Their responses reveal the true extent to which the very concept of time is changing.

Remote work is chipping away at our personal time

One of the most enticing questions that remote work initially inspired was, what will people do with the two hours of their day that were once reserved for commuting? Unfortunately, for many that “free” time has just become more work time.

According to our survey, 49 percent of enterprise workers and 56 percent of SMB leaders say they now work longer hours than they would like to. Indeed, enterprise workers average 44.9 hours per week and SMB leaders average 45.1 hours, more than the standard work week.

With increased hours comes increased pressure to always be reachable, even after people clock out for the day. Nearly half of enterprise workers and 3 in 5 SMB leaders feel pressured to respond to emails and customer issues after hours.

A perfect storm for burnout — especially for women — and minority-owned businesses

Burnout has gotten worse in the past year. More than a third of SMB leaders told us they have seen employee burnout and attrition due to work pressures during the pandemic.

The effect of burnout, however, are not felt equally. Minority-owned* (67 percent), women-owned (49 percent) and essential small business owners* (67 percent) felt more stretched for time at work than non-minority-owned (52 percent), men-owned (38 percent) and non-essential small business owners (49 percent).

These stresses carry over into home life. Minority-owned (64 percent), women-owned (54 percent) and essential small business leaders (60 percent) felt higher levels of stress in their personal lives from trying to keep their business afloat.

“As a mum, I do hundreds of small blocks of work instead of protected regular office hours. This goes into evenings and weekends, too,” one SMB leader told us.

The result: More minority-owned (55 percent) and essential small business (51 percent) leaders say they’re losing the passion that spurred them to launch their own businesses. Nearly half of essential small business owners said they would be willing to sell their business tomorrow if they could.

Gen Z is the main driver of the great resignation

Based on what our research revealed, it’s no surprise that resignations are on the rise. More than 4 million American workers quit their jobs in April alone, which the Labor Department says is a record.

It’s clear that trend will continue. For example, 35 percent of enterprise workers said they plan to switch jobs in the next year. Of that group, 61 percent say they would do so simply to be in more control over their schedules.

Those numbers are even higher for those earlier in their careers. Though they’ve spent few years in the workforce, more than half of Gen Z respondents said they plan to pursue a new job in the next year. This generation is also the least satisfied with work-life balance (56 percent) and their jobs overall (59 percent). This group also feels the most pressure to work during “office hours,” (62 percent), despite a quarter of them saying they actually work best during outside of the standard 9-5 window. In fact, nearly half of Gen Z say they often work from bed.

Workers call for technology to help

While the forces behind these trends are large and complex, something that’s clear from our research is that workers now have higher expectations for technology to help them work faster and more efficiently.

This is especially true for low-effort tasks such as managing files, forms, contracts, payments, and invoices. Workers spend a third of the workweek on mundane, repetitive work, with 86 percent of enterprise workers and 83 percent of SMB leaders saying these tasks get in the way of doing their jobs effectively. In fact, 91 percent of individuals surveyed said they’re interested in tools which would make tasks or processes more efficient — like Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Sign.

In the future, where employees are collaborating across offices and with remote workers, employers must embrace user-friendly technology tools, AI and automation to retain and attract talent. Adobe’s study found half of enterprise workers would switch jobs if doing so gave them access to better tools that made them more effective at work.

What would people do with all the extra time that better tools would give them? Of those we spoke to, half said they would pursue their passions and personal growth. That’s time well spent.

For more information, download the full Adobe Future of Time report.

*Minority-owned data includes responses from the U.S. and U.K. only
*Essential small businesses are defined as businesses that provided consumers crucial products or services such as groceries, healthcare, and emergency services during the Covid-19 pandemic