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Durham University News

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Home workers fear being “out of sight, out of mind”

(18 March 2008)

Working from home reduces stress in office workers but leads to fears about career progression, according to new research.

The findings, led by Durham Business School, Durham University, showed that home workers worried about missing-out on “water-cooler networking” – where potential opportunities for moving up the ladder are discussed informally in the office. Despite these concerns the study also found that working from home generally had a positive effect on an employee’s work/life balance, giving them more time with family and leading to less stress and burnout. For example 43 per cent of respondents who worked more than 20 hours per week at home reported feeling a great deal of stress because of their job compared to 65 per cent of employees who worked solely in the office. The researchers also said their findings should allay the concerns of employers who worry that working from home reduces their employees’ commitment to take on additional duties for the good of a company. They expect their findings will prompt employers to explore greater opportunities to help office-based staff work from home and ensure they enjoy equal career prospects. Tom Redman, Professor of Human Resource Management, Durham Business School, will present the research today (Tuesday, March 18) at the British Institute of Facilities Management conference, at Keble College, Oxford. His team studied the responses of 749 staff in managerial or professional positions in British-based knowledge-intensive industries such as consulting, media, and financial services. The research found a clear link between working from home and improved well-being, but also revealed worries that home working could harm career prospects. Professor Redman said: “There were worries from those we surveyed about a lack of face-time in an organisation – simply because their face wasn’t there to be seen. “It seems at least for managerial and professional employees in knowledge-based industries that working from home is an antidote to the stresses of office-based working, but this may be at the expense of lower levels of support for career development.” There were no significant differences between the commitment of home and office-based workers to their companies. For example in response to the question “I really feel as if this organisation’s problems are my own”, 69 and 67 percent of home workers and office workers respectively agreed with the statement. Professor Redman added: “Employers were worried that staff who worked from home would not be as committed to those extra duties where employees go above and beyond the call of duty for their company. “However we found that working from home did not undermine this behaviour and the interesting challenge for the future is to see how staff can become corporate citizens electronically. “As working from home does not harm an employee’s commitment and has real benefits for staff our argument is that a lot of duties can be done electronically thanks to email and the internet.” Nick Dines, Head of Communication at the British Chambers of Commerce, said: "With advances in technology home working is now a realistic option for many people. “Where it is possible for companies to do so, managers should consider the option for their employees as part of a sensible flexible working programme. "However, it does have to be recognised that for some businesses it will be much harder to facilitate and allow home working due to specific requirements and resource restrictions. “Overall, home working is certainly a concept that should be explored as more companies adopt flexible working."

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