Home workers 13 per cent less productive than hybrid workers, research finds

Data reveals productivity worsened as a result of burnout, depression and long Covid

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Home workers are 13 per cent less productive than hybrid workers and are costing the economy billions, an analysis has shown. 

The research, conducted by Vitality, found that home workers lost the most productive days (53 days) and hybrid workers lost the least (47 days).

The survey of 8,500 employees and employers also revealed that Britain’s economy lost £127.9bn in 2022 as a result of low employee productivity and absence.

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But Gemma Dale, business lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, said this data did not reflect her professional experience. “Research consistently finds productivity increases when people work from home,” said Dale.

She added that the impact of remote working on productivity “[depends] on a range of factors, from how it is introduced and managed, to the specific approaches that the organisation undertakes in relation to communication, policy and training, among others”.

In the survey one-fifth (20 per cent) said they were suffering from burnout, with those affected typically losing 93 productive days per year – more than twice as many as those who did not experience burnout.

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The research suggested that mental health and illness had an impact as people with symptoms of depression (10 per cent) lost an average of 110 productive days per year, while long Covid sufferers lost an average of 87 productive days.

The majority (80 per cent) of employers surveyed said they had made more than 40 separate health and wellbeing offerings to support employees in 2022; however, this is only a 5 per cent increase on 2019’s pre-pandemic figures.

Louise Aston, wellbeing director at Business in the Community, said that, as with most workplace arrangements, “no one size fits all”. She advised that “employers consult their employees about when, where and how they work”, adding that “the freedom of choice the pandemic has brought has been beneficial not only to employees but to businesses too.”

Dr Daniel Wheatley, reader in business and labour economics at University of Birmingham Business School, said that, from his experience, problems with productivity among remote workers were “often present where tasks fit poorly, focus is centred on time rather than task, and line management is focused too heavily on micro-management, including through the deployment of monitoring software”. 

For this reason, he suggested that the key to getting the best out of remote work might be making adjustments, such as “designing/adapting jobs so that tasks and deliverables are appropriate to be performed remotely, alongside positively managed relationships between employees and line managers”.

However, Colin Barnes, director at UK Health Solutions at Aon, said the data indicated that these efforts were “not translating into results for employees” and that this should be regarded as “a wake-up call for employers”.

He advised businesses to “take this as an opportunity to refocus their strategy with data and ensure budgets are spent in the most impactful way – including providing the support that employees need – which ultimately benefits the business too”.