ONS: Homeworkers did longer hours but took fewer sick days in 2020

Homeworkers did more overtime and worked more hours during 2020, according to a major study of working patterns from the Office for National Statistics.

The report on homeworking, which looks at hours, pay and career opportunities between 2011 and 2020, found that before the pandemic, those working from home were less than half as likely to be promoted as all other workers (2012-2017), and 38% less likely to have received a bonus compared to those who had never worked from home.

In 2020, the number of people that did some work from home jumped by 9.4 percentage points compared with the year before, to more than a third of the population (35.9%).

The average gross weekly pay of workers who had “recently worked from home” (because the pandemic had transferred their job to home) was about 20% higher in 2020 than those who never worked from home, the ONS said.

Prior to the pandemic, people who mainly worked from home were paid on average 6.8% less than those who never worked from home. The ONS said this gap had decreased overtime as homeworking had become more widely accepted and encouraged as part of flexible working policies.

In 2020, those who mainly worked from home were paid 9.2% more on average than those who did not, mainly due to being able to work in spite of lockdown restrictions.

Training for homeworkers also rose during the pandemic. Prior to 2020, workers who mainly worked from home were 40% less likely to receive job-related training compared with those who did not.

Those new to working from home in 2020 were conversely 35% more likely to receive training, the ONS said.

However, those working from home during 2020 did on average six hours unpaid overtime per week, compared with 3.6 hours for those who had never worked from home.

Across full-time roles, homeworkers worked consistently more hours than non-homeworkers between 2011 and 2020.

Those who have recently started working from home worked the most hours per week, both in part-time roles and full-time roles.

For full-time workers, those who mainly worked from home completed more hours in 2020 (35.9) than those who never (32.7) or only occasionally (30.1) worked from home.

Overall, the pandemic caused a reduction in average weekly hours worked, however. Compared with 2019, hours worked fell by a greater amount among those who reported never doing any work from home (down four hours) compared with those who did some work from home (down two hours).

The times people started work changed during the pandemic, according to the ONS. In April 2020, more homeworkers worked earlier in the morning. After 5pm, those working from home were less likely to be working than those who were away from home.

This changed in September 2020, however. A greater proportion of employees at home were likely to be working between 6pm and 11pm compared with those working away from home.

In 2015, the average start time for workers working away from home was 9.13am – this shifted to 9.44am in April 2020 and 9.37am in September 2020. For homeworkers, the average start time was pushed back from 12.47pm in 2015 to 10.15am in April 2020 and 10.45am in September 2020.

Sickness absence for homeworkers in 2020 was just 0.9%, the ONS found, equivalent to two days per worker per year. Those who had never worked from home lost around 4.3 days per year.

The industry with the highest proportion of homeworkers in 2020 was information and communication, where 62% of employees were mainly based at home.

Those least likely to be working from home were in accommodation and food service, transport, and retail.

London had the highest rates of home working during 2020, while areas of Scotland and the north of England had the lowest.

Emma Parry of the Cranfield School of Management comments said the findings made for “worrying reading”.  

“They suggest that the hybrid remote/office working model, which many organisations are planning, will create a two-tier workforce where opportunities for pay and promotions are harder to come by for those working from home.

“Businesses need a change in mindset which dispenses with this ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude to managing people. Decisions should be based on outputs and outcomes rather that what managers ‘see’ to avoid discriminating against those not visible in the workplace.”

She added that remote workers could end up working through illness rather than taking time off: “The report  highlights a concerning phenomenon where the bar for taking time off work due to illness appears to be much higher for remote workers.

“What we’re seeing is a home-working version of presenteeism when people aren’t taking sick days unless they’re really ill. This is another area where business culture needs to adapt to the new ways of working to get the best out of employees.”

Andrew Mawson, founder of management consultancy Advanced Workplace Associates said: “The ONS data shows how much workers have embraced working from home during the lockdown and desire it in the future, and the challenge employers face meeting this growing demand for flexibility.

“Just because people want new ways of working doesn’t mean organisations will automatically agree to it, and we’ve seen some like Goldman Sachs who want to put the genie back into the bottle. Many leaders are struggling to work out how to adapt to the new workplace realities, but those who get it right have the opportunity to be more flexible, efficient and attractive. To do this they need to have conversations with their teams to agree new arrangements that work for the individual, the team and the organisation.

“Surveys we’ve conducted among our clients, which range from major law firms and media groups to charities, show that only 5% of employees saying they are now happy to work five days a week in the office against 45% before lockdown. Also a great many people want to come in to the office just two or three days a week, but on the same days – Tuesday to Thursday – meaning that buildings could resemble the Marie Celeste on Mondays and Fridays if employers don’t get it right.”

The ONS used the Annual Population Survey for the years 2011 to 2019 to understand pre-pandemic trends and then compare them to 2020 data.

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