Many firms are uncertain about what policies on home working to adopt. As a result, firms in very similar industries adopt extremely different practices. For example, in the U.S. airline industry Jet Blue allows all regular call-center employees to work from home.
The trade-off between home-life and work-life has also received increasing attention as the number of households in the US with all parents working has increased from 25% in 1968 to 48% by 2008 (Council of Economic Advisors, 2010). These rising work pressures are leading governments in the US and Europe to investigate ways to promote work-life balance. For example, the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) published a report launched by Michelle and Barak Obama at the White House in summer 2010 on policies to improve work-life balance. One of the key conclusions in the executive summary concerned the need for research to identify the trade-offs in work-life balance policies, stating:
“A factor hindering a deeper understanding of the benefits and costs of flexibility is a lack of data on the prevalence of workplace flexibility and arrangements, and more research is needed on the mechanisms through which flexibility influences workers’ job satisfaction and firms’ profits to help policy makers and managers alike” (CEA, 2010)
First, the performance of the home workers went up dramatically, increasing by 12.2% over the nine month experiment. This improvement came mainly from an 8.9% increase in the number of minutes they worked during their shifts (the time they were logged in taking calls). This was due to a reduction in breaks and sick-days taken by the home workers. The remaining 3.3% improvement was because home workers were more productive per minute worked, apparently due to the quieter working conditions at home.
Second, there were no spillovers on to the rest of the group – interestingly, those remaining in the office had no change in performance.
Third, attrition fell sharply among the home workers, dropping by almost 50% versus the control group. Home workers also reported substantially higher work satisfaction and attitudinal survey outcomes.
Finally, at the end of the experiment the firm was so impressed by the impact of home-working they decided to roll the option out to the entire firm, allowing the treatment and control groups to re-choose their working arrangements. Almost one half of the treatment group changed their minds and returned to the office, while two thirds of the control group (who initially had requested to work from home) decided to stay in the office. This highlights how the impact of these types of management practices are also ex ante unclear to employees.
Read the full report here...
- Posted by Tom/Bluedog