Women working at home who do higher grade work are paid more on average than their equivalent office-bound colleagues according to new research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of its £4 million Future of Work Programme.
This is one of several surprise findings in a study which explodes some of the popular perceptions that home working is all liberation or all drudgery.
With encouragement from politicians and some business leaders, the facility to work at home, at least for some of the working week, is increasingly viewed as a factor in promoting a more healthy work/life balance.
Some employers see the granting of permission to work at home as enlightened employment practice. Dr Alan Felstead, from the Centre for Labour Market Studies at the University, has identified some unexpected facts about who works at home, how much they earn, and which employers are most likely to allow their employees to work at home.
Addressing the annual ACAS conference in Harrogate, he showed that the public sector is more likely to offer the option of home working than private employers, as are larger employers against smaller companies. Employers in the utilities sector are most likely among private sector companies to offer the facility.
Working at home does not necessarily go alongside other ‘family-friendly’ employment policies, however, with part time working sometimes being offered instead of, and not in addition to, home working. But there is a close overlap between employees being allowed to do some work at home and other flexible working arrangements like parental leave, part-time working and job sharing.
Sharp contrasts surface from the research which is based on analysis of data from the Workplace Employee Relations Survey (WERS), in the case of employers, and from the Labour Force Survey (LFS), which asked respondents questions about the location of their workplace since 1992.
For instance, far from working at home sitting uneasily with teamworking, the evidence from WERS suggests that there are instances to the contrary. Some of the stereotypes on home working, such as low pay, however, are upheld in the analysis of the LFS. Among manual workers who work mainly at home, about three-quarters receive low pay compared to a fifth of their counterparts in more conventional locations.
Meanwhile, the supposed bias towards women outnumbering men working mainly at home is upheld, particularly among those working mainly at home (69 per cent against 31 per cent) but the opposite is true among those who work at home some of the time. The number of people working mainly at home has risen dramatically in the last two decades to 2.5 per cent of the workforce, while those who said that they work at home 'sometimes' account for a further 22 per cent.
Other findings include that of ethnic minorities, if anything, being under-represented among home workers, but also being the worst paid among homeworkers. Women who work mainly at home are more likely to have dependent children than peers who work elsewhere. People in higher occupations are over-represented in the categories of those 'mainly' and 'sometimes' working at home.
For further information contact Dr Alan Felstead, Tel: 0116 252 5946, Email: Alan.Felstead@le.ac.uk, or Lilian El-Doufani or David Ridley in ESRC External Relations Division. Tel 01793 413118 or 413032.
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