Report highlights the pros and cons of homeworking

Working from home is associated with longer working hours than average, greater autonomy, but greater work life conflict, according to an Irish study.

Working from home is associated with longer working hours than average, greater autonomy, but greater work life conflict, according to an Irish study.

The Workplace equality in the recession report by the Economic and Social Research Institute in Ireland investigated changes in flexible working arrangements between 2003 and 2009 and found that the availability of and personal participation in working from home rose in the private sector, but not in the public sector.

This was the only form of flexible working investigated that was more prevalent in the private sector in 2009. The researchers, Helen Russell and Frances McGinnity, found working from home was more commonly practised among those working in financial and business services and particularly those working in professional or managerial jobs.

The incidence of flexitime or flexible working hours also increased, particularly in the private sector and is now the most common form of flexible working arrangement, practised by around 30% of employees. Rates of availability and personal participation are almost identical in the public and private sectors. Personal participation is slightly higher among women, but the difference is not large, say the researchers.

Part-time work also increased and the rise was more marked in the private sector. By 2009 personal participation in part-time work was slightly higher in the private sector (26% of employees) than in the public sector (24%), although availability was somewhat higher in the public sector. Participation in part-time work was much more common among female employees, and in the retail, hospitality and health sectors. Given the high proportion of male part-time employees who were dissatisfied with their hours worked (21%), the researchers say they cannot rule out that some of the rise in part-time work may be involuntary, particularly among men.

The incidence of job sharing among employees was much lower than part-time work, although it also rose in the period and in 2009 over 9% of employees were involved in job sharing. Job sharing is much more common in large organisations and in the public sector, say the researchers. It is also more common among women.

They believe the rise in flexible working is linked to the introduction of policies on equality and flexible working and an increased demand from employees.

The repport found employees who work in organisations with a formal equality policy have lower scores on both work pressure and work–life conflict.

Part-time work had the strongest positive impact on employee well-being of all the flexible working arrangements. Part-time work reduced work–life conflict and work pressure significantly, say the researchers. The trade-off is that part-time work is also associated with lower earnings and lower levels of job autonomy.

Job sharing also reduced work–life conflict, although the impact was modest. It was also associated with lower job autonomy.

Flexitime (or flexible working hours) was associated with greater autonomy, but if it was only limited to certain individuals it did not reduce work pressure or work-life conflict and results in lower hourly pay, particularly in the public sector.

Homeworking increased both work–life conflict and work pressure, suggesting that working from home is “more a form of work intensification”. The report found those with higher earnings are more likely to work from home regularly, although this is related to the jobs they do. They also enjoyed greater autonomy in their jobs.

The study concludes that the recession has not stopped the move to more flexible working and equity policies. It says: “The study shows that not only are equality policies associated with better outcomes for employees – lower work pressure and reduced work–life conflict – they are also associated with some better organisational outcomes – increased job satisfaction, greater organisational commitment and higher output innovation. The number of flexible working arrangements available in an organisation is also found to have a positive impact on job satisfaction and output innovation.”

 





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