'Digital discrimination' on home working angers lower-grade workers

"Digital discrimination" pervades the UK workplace, with senior management and higher social grades given more flexible working privileges and benefits in the workplace, provoking feelings of resentment and jealousy, according to research.

Last week Yahoo's CEO pulled the plug on home working in the US while demanding a "more collaborative" approach to work onsite.

That same week mobile operator O2 published its own research which showed a "disconnect" between what opportunities managers said they offered to staff to work flexibly, and what opportunities staff said they were being offered.

The latest research, conducted by OnePoll among 2,000 UK office workers, found that more social grade ‘A’s (higher managerial, administrative and professional employees) are enjoying the privileges and benefits of remote and mobile working practices than ‘C1’s (supervisory, clerical and junior managerial, administrative and professional).

It is claimed the research shows that by prioritising remote working for the senior levels of the organisational hierarchy, rather than addressing the needs of the workforce as a whole, many companies are missing out on a number of substantial business benefits.

These include better business continuity planning, improved staff recruitment and retention and financial savings through reduction of office space needed.

The research was commissioned by Citrix, whose thin client computing, web optimisation and virtualisation offerings support remote and flexible working. James Stevenson, Citrix area vice president of Northern Europe, said: “It’s often assumed that ‘digital divides’ occur between town and country, old and young or rich and poor. The research shows that a similar divide is beginning to develop in business.

"Despite the fact that almost two-thirds of lower-ranking staff can work from anywhere they have a phone and broadband connection, just a quarter of them are allowed to do so. The emergence of digital discrimination runs the risk of sowing feelings of unrest within the organisation and falling behind more progressive firms.”

The research found that 59 percent of the most senior management (social grade A) are allowed to work from home at least once a month, but the figure drops to 43 percent for middle management (social grade B), and only 26 percent for administrative staff and low-ranking professionals (C1).

The research found that 22 percent of administrative and lower-ranking professionals "felt jealous" about the situation, 16 percent were "resentful" and 16 percent were "annoyed".

The restrictions placed on junior and intermediate-level management being able to work remotely seem to point to an unspoken trust issue from the most senior levels of the business. When asked why they were not able to work remotely, the primary reasons cited by junior staff included "against company policy", "not allowed", "boss likes to keep an eye on us", "trust issues".

Professor Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University, said: "A variety of societal and cultural factors are driving changes to our traditional 9-5 working practices, and it’s important for employers to lift restrictions and offer all workers the opportunity to benefit from flexible working practices.

"Choice will be key though as some employees may prefer the social interaction and team environment that comes with working in an office. And some may be reticent to work from home in the fear that it may adversely affect their career in a tough economic environment and saturated job market."

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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