Home workers less likely to be promoted or receive bonuses, ONS stats reveal

Experts warn of creating ‘two-tier’ employment system and urge businesses to offer career development to all employees and allocate opportunities fairly

Home working could negatively impact workers’ earning potential and chances of being promoted, official statistics have revealed.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that between 2013 and 2020, people who worked from home were on average 38 per cent less likely to have received a bonus compared to those who never worked from home.

Similarly, the analysis showed that, between 2012 and 2017, people who mainly worked from home were less than half as likely to be promoted than other workers, and were less likely to receive training.

The ONS said the figures could reflect biases in the labour market, “with people who worked mainly from home being overlooked for promotions and bonuses due to a lack of visibility at work”, or a preference for non-monetary benefits such as flexibility and a shortened commute. 

Reacting to the findings, Claire McCartney, senior resourcing and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said it was “disappointing” to see home workers missing out on promotions and urged employers to reflect on their own practices to counter it.

“Organisations must ensure they are providing ongoing access to development and career conversations for all employees and make sure there is a fair allocation of work and opportunities,” she said.

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Sarah Loates, founder of Derby-based Loates HR Consultancy, agreed it was clear from the report that people who work from home were less likely to receive bonuses and “may be hindering their chances of promotion”. She warned that an “often overlooked” downside of a hybrid working approach was the potential for a “two-tier system” of employment to emerge.

Loates said: “Often, this is because people choosing to spend a larger proportion of their time in the office are seen as more committed than colleagues who opt to work from home more.

"In the corporate world, working from home can also mean you are not present when career opportunities informally present themselves, for example, during a water cooler conversation. In other words, people who work from home more could potentially lose out on projects that could enhance their CVs, and increase their chances of promotion.” 

The ONS analysis also found that home workers on average worked more unpaid hours. In 2020, people who completed any work from home did six hours of unpaid overtime on average per week, compared with 3.6 hours for those that never worked from home.

But, McCartney added that while the report highlighted the challenges associated with home working, these pitfalls could be avoided if employers implemented the right policies and took the time to train their managers in this new way of working.

Recent CIPD research has found that with the right training for managers, 43 per cent of organisations reported homeworking to have enhanced productivity.

Karen Watkins, director of Rowan Consulting, said that a ‘one size fits all’ approach will “always fail when it comes to home working”. 

This was echoed by Andrew Mawson, founder of Advanced Workplace Associates: “Many leaders are struggling to work out how to adapt to the new workplace realities, but those who get it right have the opportunity to be more flexible, efficient and attractive.

“To do this they need to have conversations with their teams to agree new arrangements that work for the individual, the team and the organisation.”