Sickness, affairs and plumbing…informal homeworking


In this two minute HR Blast we focus on informal home working. Home working can be a tough topic for line managers to deal with; full of trip hazards and pot holes! Fortunately, we’ve put together a brief overview of issues and solutions that can be used to raise awareness with your line managers, in order to ensure more effective long term staff management.

Reasons for homeworking

At Jaluch, we frequently encounter employees who are homeworking for a half day, full day or even a few days because:

Factors outside the employee’s control

  • The weather prevents travel.
  • Travel disruption such as tube or bus strikes make it sensible.
  • Office moves/reorganisation make it sensible for certain people to stay away from the business for a few days or weeks.
  • The employee is ill and unable to get into work, but can still do some work.

Factors (mostly) within the employee’s control

  • They want to work from home for a day, ostensibly to work in peace and quiet but in reality to conduct their affair.
  • They genuinely want to work from home for a day to work in peace and quiet
  • It’s the only way to deal with issues such as plumbers, deliveries, doctors appointments, child sickness etc.
  • They are back from holiday but still have jet lag, or they are going on holiday and need to combine working and packing (bosses – no expletives allowed!)
  • Their car is in for a service or their bike has a puncture.

And the list goes on…

Trip hazards and pot holes

Time and efficiency

  • Productivity can be affected if home working time is not organised properly or viewed as an employee ‘perk’ or ‘legalised absence days’.
  • It relies on your measuring performance by outputs (what has been achieved) rather than inputs (i.e. time worked), but not every organisation is ready for this.

Confident management

  • It tests the trust of line managers; which some managers can deal with whilst others most definitely can’t.
  • Managers will have different views on informal home working which can lead to staff being treated differently when making home working requests across the whole organisation. This could lead to a grievance being raised.

Hidden issues

  • It provides a place for disgruntled or disengaged employees to hide and pretend all is fine.
  • It can create serious sickness management issues. Sickness absence becomes harder to manage when it’s unclear how many hours in each day of informal working they have actually worked.
  • It provides an opportunity for the few ‘bad eggs’ to take advantage of their managers’ trust or to behave in an inappropriate way in full knowledge they will not be seen or caught out.

Sensible solutions

Training and knowledge building

  • Raise line managers’ awareness of the pot holes, trip hazards but also the very real benefits of informal home working arrangements. A lunch and learn session would be perfect.
  • To ensure fair management across all parts of the organisation, draw up an easy guide for line managers so they understand when home working should be agreed and when it should not.

Active management 

  • Monitor home working just as you would monitor absence – look for patterns (e.g. employee always wants a Friday or takes the day before a holiday), be on the alert for issues, conduct mini return to work interviews (sessions) after someone has worked at home to understand what they achieved, what any barriers to effective working were etc.
  • Don’t ignore the huge trust issues. Pretending it’s a ‘non issue’ is crazy. Talk to your managers about how to trust staff and what level of trust is expected within the organisation and also talk to them about how to deal with a situation where they feel they cannot trust an individual.
  • Be clear about what is bullying or oppressive micro management and what sensible appropriate management is. Your managers should feel able and confident to raise issues with staff who they feel are taking the proverbial without fear of being accused of bullying or oppressive management.

Employee relations

  • Don’t let home working sneak up on the business. Manage it – how often, who, what outputs, benefit to staff, benefit to the business etc. Employees need to be clear about how the system works, what’s in it for them and what’s expected of them etc.
  • If staff are working from home at your request, thank them. Show you are appreciative of them agreeing to change their routine.
  • Be aware of staff murmurings, if they feel one employee is getting away with murder because their manager is afraid to tackle the abuse of home working. Staff discontent about poor management should not be ignored.

Finally, it’s a well known fact that workers resign as a result of their manager rather than anything their employer has done. So, it’s crucial you do what is required to ensure your managers are confident and competent to manage their staff. Don’t ignore their needs, don’t assume you learn what is required to manage staff by osmosis and don’t assume employees will be forgiving just because their manager hasn’t received any management training.

If you need help managing staffing issues then please get in touch! One of the Jaluch team will be happy to help.

If you would prefer to handle your training needs in house, then we also offer pre-prepared training materials in Performance Management and Absence Management.

The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individuals matters.

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