These are the central findings of a ZEW expert brief published by the ZEW – Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research, Mannheim, and the Institute for Employment Research (IAB) in Nuremberg. For this purpose, home-based work arrangements were investigated in a detailed analysis on the basis of the Linked Personnel Panel (LPP), a survey among employers and workers in private establishments with at least 50 employees.
Despite the vast number of benefits, merely twelve per cent of employees in German private sector establishments with more than 50 employees work from home at least occasionally. The major reason why this share is not higher is that many tasks cannot be performed from home. The production sector, for instance, often entails machine-aided tasks, making mobile work impossible in this case. 90 per cent of the establishments that do not offer mobile work arrangements cite the tasks of their employees as a major obstacle, a factor that was also confirmed by 75 per cent of employees that do not work from home. The second most important factor that was cited to impede establishments from offering mobile work arrangements is that it makes the cooperation between co-workers more complicated (22 per cent), whereas the third most important factor are data protection concerns (16 per cent).
According to the employees, the direct managers play a determining role in deciding whether working from home is possible or not. More than two thirds of employees named the fact that their manager prefers them to be at the office as a reason for not working from home.
There is a downside to the benefits of working from home
“Many of the perceived benefits of working from home are aimed at making it easier for workers to organise their daily work routine. By avoiding long commutes, employees save time, which is in turn often used for work purposes. And this organisation of tasks and processes is more compatible with the workers’ personal wishes and expectations,” explains Junior Professor Susanne Steffes, ZEW researcher and co-author of the ZEW/IAB expert brief, summarising the results of the analysis. “There is, however, also a downside to these benefits, since the blurring of the lines between work and private life can lead to conflicts and psychological stress.”
40 per cent of employees who work from home only work during their working hours, and 50 per cent of those who also or exclusively work outside of their normal working hours named the blurring of professional and personal lives as a consequence. “We observed lower job satisfaction among employees who would like to work from home and do not have the opportunity to do so despite working in an establishment that offers home-based working arrangements. These individuals also perceive the treatment by their managers to be less fair than other employees,” says Steffes. The reverse of the medal is that, when there are some workers who have the possibility to work from home and some who do not, this creates a desire for equal treatment that cannot be fulfilled for some of the employees.
“It is therefore a great challenge for human resource management to maintain a balance between employees with and employees without home-based working arrangements.”