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More German workers would like to work from home - but not enough are permitted to do so

Press Release of February 29, 2016

One out of every three workers would prefer to work from home, but only one out of every eight actually does – Germany’s proportion of home workers lags behind that of other European countries – home workers are more satisfied with their jobs – reconciling career and family is not the primary motive

In Germany, only twelve percent of all employees work primarily or even partially from home, even though many employees believe they do not need to be in the office in order to do their jobs. Many more employees would like to work from home—even if only every once in a while—but in most cases, their employers forbid them from doing so. If employers were to reconsider their policies, the proportion of home workers could increase to 30 percent. These are the key findings of a recent study conducted by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin) and published in the DIW Economic Bulletin 8/2016.

“Working from home is not being taken advantage of in Germany, because many HR managers continue rigidly adhering to expectations of mandatory attendance,” explains DIW labor expert Karl Brenke. The proportion of home workers in Germany lies below the EU average, and lags considerably behind that of other countries such as France, the UK, and the Scandinavian countries, where the proportion of home workers is growing.

Brenke investigated how many employees in Germany work from home; which social factors distinguish these home workers; and what kinds of work these employees are engaging in. For this purpose, he used data from the official micro-census as well as the longitudinal Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) survey, which only began collecting the relevant data in 2014. For the very first time, therefore, it was possible to assess what kinds of work can be completed outside of the office, and whether those engaged in such work would be interested in working from home in the first place. According to the 2014 data, nearly 60 percent of employees reported that working from home is not feasible for them, and roughly 40 percent reported that they would consider working from home. But the number of employees who are actually working from home, at just 12 percent, is clearly much lower.

Working from home is particularly common within certain service industries and at large companies. However, this does not include banks or insurance companies or jobs in the public sector where working from home is possible, from the perspective of employees, but nevertheless uncommon. In general, jobs that require a higher professional qualification better allow for working at home than do those that require only average or minimal professional qualifications.

Satisfied home workers despite unpaid overtime

Regardless of the agreed-upon working hours, home workers are working nearly 46 hours per week on average, comparatively longer than the working hours other employees. Most overtime is compensated only partially—or not at all—through extra payment and/or time off. Nevertheless, employees who work from home are somewhat more satisfied than are their office-bound colleagues. It is worth mentioning that job satisfaction is lowest among those who are obligated to work at the office even though they would like to work at home and believe that their jobs are suited for this arrangement. The reconciliation of work and family does not play a decisive role in the desire to work from home: there are just as many home workers among singles as there are among single parents, and even more among those living alone than among families with children.

Employers must rethink their policies

“Employers must rethink how they measure their employees’ performance—that is, by the quality of their output rather than their physical presence in the office,” says Brenke. Otherwise, the labor market will start to react, forcing employers to update their employee policies since they would risk losing qualified professionals as the pool of potential employees shrinks. To prevent unpaid overtime, Brenke proposes operational or collective agreements.