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Perks & Pain Points: WFH is a double-edged sword, says UK workforce

72% of British workers say working from home offers a better work-life balance. But there are pain points, with workers less likely to take leave when they are sick, and more likely to work longer hours.

New research from SD Worx, the leading European HR & payroll services provider, found that 72% of British workers perceive the ability to work from home as a key to unlocking a better work-life balance. 

    Based on a survey of over 4,000 companies in the UK and across Europe, the findings show that the appetite for working from home (WFH) in the UK (72%) is creeping ahead of mainland Europe (66%). Of those surveyed, UK workers pinpointed WFH as a key consideration when working for an employer, believing it contributes to a better work-life balance. Across Europe, seven out of ten said working from home accommodates a better work-life balance, with employees in France (80%), Germany (80%) and Belgium (79%) agreeing the most strongly. 

    The emphasis on WFH flexibility highlights a hardened shift in workforce priorities, with flexibility now rivalling other key job aspects, including pay, job security and purpose.

      Despite demand, WFH presents new worker pain points

      Besides the potential advantages, however, employees are reporting challenges in terms of both well-being and working hours that are holding them back from getting the most from the remote working revolution. 63% indicated that they are less inclined to call in sick – with respondents in Sweden (72%), the UK (69%) and Italy (67%) the most likely to cite this issue. Almost half across Europe also admitted to working more hours in a day when at home. This applies primarily to employees in France (58%), Italy (55%) and Belgium (54%). In contrast, Dutch (44%), German (43%) and Swedish (38%) employees said WFH made no real difference to working hours. 

        Striking the right balance

        Four out of ten European employees’ jobs now allow them to work from home and around half of those surveyed said they prefer to work from home two to three days a week. For 15%, one day a week is enough, and just under 8% want to return to working full time in the office. On the other hand, almost 14% said they would like to work from home permanently, with Spanish (26%), Finnish (22%) and British (21%) employees showing the strongest support. Friday appears to be the most popular day for working from home (30%), followed by Monday (24%) and Wednesday (16%).

        The figures, however, show a remarkable contrast: although 50% indicated they would prefer to work from home two to three days a week, on average, 46% of respondents considered it important to see colleagues in the workplace five days a week. This stark contrast suggests that employees are still struggling with the trade-off between the advantages of working from home and the ability to enjoy the social side of work by connecting with colleagues in the workplace. 

          Guidance to get the most out of WFH

          One in three employees (29%) across Europe indicated an openness to receiving more WFH tips from their employer, and more so in Spain (40%), Italy (34%) and Norway (33%). The demand for tips is more common among managers (35%) than non-managers (25%). With workers placing value on support with WFH, employers should consider how to best support flexible working while maintaining well-being, productivity and motivation.  

          Colette Philp, UK HR Country Lead at SD Worx, comments: "The pandemic opened the door to working from home, bringing a host of new challenges for employers in helping workers level up to its realities.  We're in the middle of a huge talent shortage and workers more than ever are making their demands for flexible work solutions loud and clear. We know WFH can bring enormous value to workers' experience and overall lifestyle but we must get the balance right and look to bring added value to work, remote or otherwise. The post-pandemic job market has crystalised demand for improvements in flexibility, purpose, social connections and salary. 
          This requires strategic thinking and a reset in our overall approach to work and workplace culture to support workers and deliver against business goals in a tough economy. WFH is here to stay, so it's high time for employers to ensure it works now and in the long term. We recommend developing a policy based on three pillars: productivity, connection and competence. 
          No two people are the same, so a one size fits all approach to HR is always destined to fail. For businesses, it will be critical to look at which groups benefit from working from home in terms of productivity, motivation and well-being. The need for contact with colleagues should never be underestimated. WFH might be here to stay but the research has an urgent call to action for employers: support workers and help them navigate the WFH pain points or risk losing them."