Working from home could mean older workers retire later, according to an ONS report.
Working from home has some benefits for older workers and may enable some to stay in the labour market for longer, but it could widen inequality between those who can and can’t work from home, according to an Office for National Statistics study.
The study of workers aged 50 to 69, conducted in April to May 2021, was prompted by concerns about early retirement and the impact on individual finances and the economy. The ONS estimated that if the employment rate of people aged 50 to 64 matched that of 35- to 49-year-olds, it would increase the size of the economy by around £88bn.
The study found several benefits to homeworking. For instance, those working from home had better work life balance and wellbeing. The ONS adds that there is some evidence that working from home may delay retirement plans for some older workers. In June and July 2020, those who were working entirely from home were more likely to say they were planning to retire later (11%) compared with those not working from home (5%).
The ONS also notes that one of the main reasons for dropping out of the labour market is poor health and that studies show people with a long-standing illness, disability or infirmity who work from home are also more likely to say they are now planning to retire later (10.9%) compared with those not working from home (4.9%).
Also, absence rates for those working from home are lower across all age groups with older workers more likely to be off sick. The ONS says that pre-pandemic, those older workers with a limiting long-term illness who were working from home were less likely to have been on long-term sickness absence in the last 12 months than those not working from home (8.0% compared with 14.4%).
Carers may also benefit from more homeworking and the ONS says productivity may also be boosted if older workers can work from home. During the pandemic, it says around three-quarters of older workers who were working from home all or some of the time reported they were able to get the same or more done than before the pandemic. However, around a quarter of older workers working from home reported decreased productivity.
The ONS adds that the proportion of older workers who are planning to work from home following the coronavirus pandemic is higher than the proportion who worked from home prior to the pandemic, suggesting any benefit may persist.
However, there are concerns that working from home may widen existing inequalities and that homeworkers may miss out on training and promotion. The study found that women, those who are healthier generally, have better paid jobs and work full time are more likely to have switched to homeworking during the pandemic. Over half of older workers who switched to working from home were in managerial and professional occupations.
Meanwhile, a survey by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation reveals that a net balance of 29% of UK businesses plan to expand their workforce in the months ahead, with 22% saying they plan to take on permanent staff and 26% looking for more temporary staff. The REC says that there are concerns in particular about skills shortages in the run-up to Christmas, especially in logistics, food manufacturing and hospitality, and that employers are already beginning to hire for this.