Wednesday 23 May 2018

That elusive work/life balance is harder to achieve if you work from home - ESRI

Lyndsey Telford

PEOPLE who work from home are under more pressure and struggle to find balance between their home and work life, new research has found.

While being based at home tends to benefit employees with greater earnings and higher job freedom, the survey conducted by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) claimed there are drawbacks as well.

Researcher Dr Helen Russell said: "The perception is that flexible working, such as working from home, will help employees balance work and family life. But that's not the case."

Of the 5,000 employees surveyed in the research, those who worked from home tended to find their job more stressful than those based in the workplace, she revealed.

"This could be because there may be a lack of boundary between home and work," Dr Russell said.

"Work may spill over into family life. The employee might feel too exhausted to do anything else at home. There can be very little separation living in the same place you work, so it may be difficult for many to switch off."

Some 31pc of those surveyed who work at home said they were stressed, compared with just 19.5pc of people who are not involved with homeworking.

The research also found that home workers tend to work longer hours. On average they worked 38 hours a week in 2009, compared with all other employees, who worked an average of 35 hours.

Dr Russell said: "They might have zero commuting time but they are working more, and that can have detrimental effects to an employee's happiness and productivity.

"Workers who commute to the workplace may have to sit in traffic in the mornings and evenings, but they at least get to switch off."

However, she pointed out that there is a trade-off for home workers as they tend to earn more money and have higher levels of autonomy.

"There is less supervision and more control over which tasks they undertake for example," Dr Russell explained.

Despite the down sides, the research found that home working, as well as other forms of flexible working including part-time hours and job shares, had increased in Ireland from the economic boom in 2003 to the country's bust in 2009.

In 2009, 12pc of employees surveyed worked from home, 9pc were job-sharing and 30pc worked flexible hours.

Dr Russell said: "We found levels of general morale were higher in flexible firms.

"Higher morale and happier employees will save businesses money in terms of staff retention and is also beneficial for productivity."

The research also found that equality practices in the workplace have improved, with 84pc of employees working in an organisation with a formal equality policy in 2009 compared with 75pc in 2003.

ESRI senior research officer Dr Frances McGinty said the recession has had little impact on employers reducing equality measures.

"While the recession has created many challenges for employers in Ireland, we find no evidence in the period up to the end of 2009 that employers have responded by reducing formal equality policies or limiting the availability of flexible working options," he said.

"This is likely to be good for employees, given their generally positive link to employee well-being, and for the organisations for which they work."

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