Homeworking - a double-edged sword?

2003

Every year, thousands of people give up working in factories, shops and offices, and instead work in their homes.

For many, the change brings marked benefits: flexible hours, independence, freedom from surveillance. But there are disadvantages too: the pressure to work longer hours, the stress of balancing work and family commitments, and the 'invasion' by work into home space and habits.

The quality of home life for homeworkers is the subject of a new study carried out by Dr Jeanne Moore and Tracey Crosbie of the University of Teesside, for the Economic and Social Research Council.

Dr Moore contacted over 100 homeworkers, mostly in the North of England and Wales, to build up a body of detailed data and opinion. The range of homeworkers were broadly categorised according to the type of work they did, the skill and resources involved and the amount of control they had over the work.

The study found that some homeworkers feel more 'at home' because they work and live in the same place. But for others working at home is totally at odds with their feelings about 'home'. Some complain they can't relax or escape work. Others say they put in more effort to homemaking, because they spend more time in those homes.

Homeworkers in professional occupations tend to find the experience more rewarding than those in 'traditional' homeworking occupations such as packing or assembly work. Traditional homeworkers have less choice and control over the work they do, and often have less physical space in which to do that work for less financial reward.

But all homeworkers with young children find it difficult to balance home and work responsibilities, particularly when they can't afford childcare.

Men and women have different experiences of homeworking. Women in professional or managerial jobs who see their home and work responsibilities as equal tend to experience more tensions between their home and working life.

Some people benefit from homeworking more than others, for psychological reasons as well as social and economic ones. They experience less stress, find it easy to self-motivate and feel they have greater control over their working life.

Homeworking is a double-edged sword for some homeworkers, particularly the flexibility it brings. Most of those who were interviewed for the study thought of flexibility as a benefit, but also admitted it resulted in their working in the evenings and weekends. As many who have worked at home will know, one of the major challenges facing professional homeworkers is a tendency to overwork.

For more information, contact contact Dr Jeanne Moore, Psychology section, School of Social Sciences, University of Teesside, Middlesborough on [email protected]