The Balance of Power

There was an article in this week’s Saturday Guardian on home working by Lucy Mangan (I’m a natural homeworker – I like a lie-down and a biscuit). Lucy is researching the matter for a Radio 4 programme called The Homeworker (11am, Monday 5 August – date for the diary).

Lucy often writes from a feminist point of view and talks about how home working offers the “freedom to tailor your working hours or location helps any woman who has children or is caring for someone sick or disabled“. This was a matter discussed in my recent interview for the Digital Epiphanies project. At one point we got on to how the government wants to be seem to support remote working as they desperately think up ways to get the increasingly smaller able-to-work population (versus the increasing aging retired population) into work. I’ve not found them to be making much of an effort in reality though…a different matter for a different post?

In her post Lucy comments on how:

most of the women I met spoke of putting in more hours than they were paid for because they felt so guilty and grateful to be allowed a semi-bespoke work life. New research suggests that the average homeworker “gives” their employer an extra 24 days a year, and I suspect that, were this broken down by gender, the female respondents’ figure would be substantially higher than the male.

Hmmm…I think I might have covered this point before in this blog!

She also raises another interesting matter that I hadn’t considered until recently – my changing fortunes have made me consider it – the matter of contracts and stability. She writes:

If, however, I was of a naturally cynical disposition – and goodness, if you are a regular reader of this column, you will know what a perilously large imaginative leap I have had to make in the service of such a hypothetical – I might be tempted to point out that all these arrangements work for individuals in the short term. In the long term, and on a macro rather than a micro scale, it might be very different.

Once we are all used to working fragmented hours, it is easy to foresee bosses – the unscrupulous first, followed by the scrupled, who will be forced to compete on the same terms – using that as an entree to zero-hour (zero sick pay, zero pension, zero protection) contracts. The balance, if not of power then at least of benefits, that had briefly tipped in favour of workers would tip back again, and more decidedly, to employers. There would be workplace legislation preventing this, of course, but then there is workplace legislation preventing a lot of things and still, somehow, the employment tribunal rosters runneth over with claims and bitter grievances.

It’s a hugely important point and signifies a significant shift in our working culture. I don’t think it needs to be doom and gloom as Lucy portrays it, but the move towards contract employment / self-employment / consultant staff (name it as you see fit) is something very real. I don’t feel it necessarily means a shift of balance in favour of employers financially, contract staff often make up for their decreasing benefits by charging more, but it does mean a shift in responsibility. If you a working as a consultant you probably/possibly charge more, work harder (needs must – how can you get future work if your reputation is lacking?) and have to take a lot more care of your work set up by organising insurance, pensions and the like. You are the adult now, not your employer. I quite like that shift, but I can see how for some that might be a terrifying prospect. Discuss?! 😉