Earning a living working from home is just as stressful as being employed in an office or a factory, according to a report by a leading research institute. More than a quarter of homeworkers, including managers and unskilled workers, said their lives were made more difficult by not going to a company office. They said their self-esteem and work-life balance were affected.
The findings overturn the view that homeworking is a panacea for the pressures of the company workplace. They are included in a new study published today, which was carried out by the University of Teesside and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Researchers interviewed a total of 125 people from across the country including designers, typists, sewing machinists and tights packers. The majority carried out paid work at home for 20 hours or more per week.
Respondents complained that work intruded on their home lives and that home was "no longer their castle". One father who took part in the study said that he felt like "throwing all his work things out of the window".
Dr Jeanne Moore, who conducted the study, said there were positive benefits to working from home, such as increased independence, but that the downsides included increased working hours, constant interruptions and a lack of distinction between work and home life. "Working from home can encroach on evenings and weekends," said Dr Moore, a lecturer in social science and law. "People also found they were having difficulties managing space and time because of their families."
Sam Walker, 36, a recruitment consultant, lives in Chelsea, south-west London, with her husband, Al.
She successfully worked from home for two years before sacrificing two-thirds of her annual income to return to office life in 2001.
"You feel very relaxed in your own environment, but you can also lose a bit of focus and momentum without people around you to give help and motivation, she said.
"It's also immensely frustrating when you're working at home and technology goes wrong. I did it for about two years, but to be honest, I'm quite a social person and I really missed the interaction of working with people."
According to official estimates, as many as 1.5 million people, or 5.5 per cent of the working population, work from home,and the number is expected to double by 2010. So great is the demand for home offices that companies are now designing bespoke garden buildings to cater for home workers.
However, the ESRC research showed that many people who had chosen to make home their workplace found it difficult to be self-motivating and to make business decisions. Women, especially those with children and in managerial occupations, had more negative experiences.
Carol Savage is managing director of Flexecutive, a recruitment and consultancy service for homeworkers. She agreed that people work longer hours at home and that time saved on commuting was instead spent working.
"There is a lack of perception of how hard these people work," she said. "In reality, they are working incredibly hard, not just watching TV or going to Tesco. The perception is that if you allow people to work at home they are going to abuse it, but the reality is that you get more than pro-rata output."
The Telework Association said that people did benefit from working from home by saving on the cost of commuting and childcare as well as freeing up more working time. "In the UK, on average, you're spending five hours a week commuting – 10 if you're working in London," said Alan Denbigh, Telework's executive director, who has worked from home for the last 12 years.
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