6.3 Homeworking and the psychological contract

Tietze and Nadin (2011) examined the impact of the transition from office-based to home-based working for clerical workers in a local authority. They found that participants chose homeworking in the expectation that it would allow them to combine work with domestic responsibilities and escape from the stressful contact of the office environment, even though this could negatively impact on promotion prospects. These employees had previously experienced contract violation in so far as their employer had failed to honour obligations relating to workload, pay and promotion, and inadequately managed the office. This had contributed to a negative atmosphere at work and resulted in reduced levels of trust, increased cynicism and low job satisfaction. Homeworking allowed employees the opportunity to repair some of this damage done in the psychological contract by restoring equity in workload and pay, and removed them from the difficult office environment. This emphasizes both the transactional and relational elements of the psychological contract. The impact on these homeworkers was very positive (e.g. household relationships became less fraught) and the organization benefited from increased productivity. Thus, better flexibility resulted in a win–win situation. However, the authors caution that the impact on those left in the office should also be considered, as this might lead to feelings of resentment and create new problems for managers to deal with.

In another study of female clerical workers, Collins et al. show how the immediate manager represents the organization for homeworkers, acting as a ‘gatekeeper in terms of whether expectations of clerical staff are met’ (2013: 212–13). Homeworkers had been able to negotiate their own idiosyncratic deals with line managers in order to attain their desired level of temporal flexibility. However, the research also found that managers had developed different interpretations and perspectives regarding flexibility and differed in their implementation, depending on how comfortable they were with allowing people to work from home. Some managers, for example, struggled to let go of control.

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