Wellbeing, Work-Life Balance and the Quality of Working Life in the New World of Hybrid Work

Lila Skountridaki, Abigail Marks, Oliver Mallett

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review

Abstract

Real wage suppression and underemployment are persisting trends in the UK labour market for over a decade (Blanchflower 2019). The COVID-19 pandemic one year long home-based work experience for a large portion of the UK workforce (ONS 2020) has made home-based work an appealing work arrangement to both employers and employees: from a largely ‘on-papers-only’ option until the pandemic, hybrid work now features as the ‘future’ of (desk-based) work (Walker 2021). How can the quality of working life (Warhurst and Knox 2020), however, be best promoted in the new world of hybrid work? Our UKRI/ESRC funded working@home study highlights that the majority of workers wish to partially continue working from home. Yet, it also suggests that organisational support is crucial for workers’ wellbeing and work-life balance when working at home. Repeated qualitative interviews with 80 home-workers and data from nearly 2800 responses to two UK-wide surveys, suggest that those workers who are very satisfied with the organisational IT support and support to adjust their work station at home, report higher levels of wellbeing and work-life balance. Simultaneously, our findings show that the majority of home-workers have invested in equipment, furniture, and the physical space to improve the quality of their home office (e.g. light, heating, sound and audio/visual distractions, view etc.) and, thus, the quality of their working life. These findings coupled with the potential savings that organisations will make from increased home-based work due to the reduced use of office space and increased productivity, suggest that employers have a responsibility and duty to support workers who will engage in hybrid work patterns. At the same time, our study participants’ experience of home-based work largely depends on the local infrastructure. For example, the perceived quality of the internet (a good internet connection improves the experience of home-based work) and that of transportation (expensive and unreliable transport is linked to an increased desire to work from home) are crucial factors in workers’ desire and ability to engage in remote / home-based work. These findings highlight the necessity of state intervention to improve the experience of home-based work. Warhurst and Knox (2020) in their manifesto for the quality of working life make a compelling argument for establishing and monitoring minimum job quality standards overseen by a regulatory governmental authority. In the aftermath of the pandemic, which has arguably redefined the locus of work for a large portion of the workforce, there is a real danger that employers will internalise benefits of home-based work (such as increased productivity), externalise operational costs to workers (such as utility bills), and neglect the new types of support needed for wellbeing and work-life balance in hybrid work arrangements. This paper echoes Warhurst and Knox’s (2020) call for minimum standards to ensure the quality of working life and suggests that the new locus of work implies that new understandings of the quality of work are necessary, if workers are to meaningfully enjoy a share in the benefits of hybrid work patterns.

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