Junior and mid-career employees hit 'really hard' by WFH set-up, survey finds

Junior and mid-career employees hit 'really hard' by WFH set-up, survey finds

Younger and early to mid-career employees are more likely to struggle with their working from home set-up, a survey conducted by Oxford-based branches at the Society of Young Publishers (SYP) and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), with the Oxford Publishing Society (OPuS), has found.

Almost 1,000 publishing professionals took part in the "Beyond Lockdown: Does Working From Home Work For You?" survey, including individuals from Oxford, London and beyond, working in academic and educational publishing, through to trade publishing, children’s books, magazines and newsletters. 

The survey found that, among other reasons, more junior members of staff are likely to be sharing flats or houses, and were often struggling with difficult conditions such as poor internet access, lack of quiet workspace and suitable equipment, and frustration at the lack of networking opportunities and guidance. 

However just over half (52%) of the 963 respondents rated their work from home environment in terms of space, lighting, heat, noise and fewer interruptions, as "slightly better" or "a lot better" than their usual office, with a quarter of total participants actively preferring their work from home set-up. 

Other benefits cited included savings in time and money through not having to commute, and the opportunity to live further away from the workplace. Of the 275 respondents who opted to give further details in the questionnaire, the majority said they would prefer to work two to three days in the office, with the rest from home.

However, more than half reported they were having to make do with inadequate equipment or a less suitable workspace, with issues such as a lack of supportive chairs, properly adjusted screens and desks causing back and shoulder pain. 

Varying degrees of company support were reported, with over 40% of respondents saying they’d been able to adapt with help from their employer. Applauding the emotional and financial support they’d be given, one employee said: “My employer has been hugely supportive, they pay me an additional fee to cover electricity costs, have offered additional monitors and my line manager has been incredible with checking in on my mental health.”

However, others felt neglected and experienced a lack of swift financial compensation for equipment to help them in working from home, little wellbeing support and no assistance with transporting items such as chairs and screens from the office to their homes. 

The survey also found a significant number of publishing professionals had seen their working hours increase since the start of the pandemic. Just over half of all respondents said their number of average hours worked had not changed, but more than a third (39%) said they work on average more hours than before, while the remaining 8% reported working fewer hours.

 A  number of respondents said they are doing unpaid extra work during the hours they would have normally spent commuting, with many saying the blurring of boundaries between home and work life (including fewer set breaks such as at lunch, and less time away from the screen) is a major issue. Many also felt there was an expectation of being available all the time, with some being expected to join a Teams or Zoom call at 9 p.m. to accommodate colleagues in other time zones.

"We’re always at work – meetings are arranged for all hours of the day to fit global timetables and now there is no ‘home time’ and no need for commute, there is an unspoken expectation that we are available," one respondent reported.

Anna Wagstaff, secretary at the Oxford branch of the NUJ, said: “The survey showed that not all homes can double up as workplaces; not all communication, learning or mentoring, can be done remotely; and that not everyone separates their professional from their social networks. With many publishing companies now looking to transition to increased remote working, it is important to develop best practice so that any changes work for everyone, and don’t further disadvantage those who may already be finding it hard to cope.”

The vast majority (76%) of participants said informal work-related communications, such as asking for advice, guidance and networking opportunities were “worse”, despite the significant uptake of social chat outlets, such as Slack, Jabber and Microsoft Teams. 

Junior staff and new starters reported feeling they were missing out on opportunities to network and seek guidance from more experienced colleagues. One said: "As a new starter, it’s been really hard to socialise much, especially with people outside of your direct team." Another said: "I speak to the staff on my level, but apart from my line manager, the other senior staff won't communicate unless to email about work-related topics."

Commenting on the survey’s findings, Caroline Guillet and Charlotte Parr, co-chairs of the SYP, commented : "We were shocked by the large volume of responses to the survey which feels like a reflection of people’s desperate need to talk about their experiences working from home.

“It is clear from these results that one of the groups most negatively impacted by the shift to home working are those just starting their careers in publishing. We hope that employers will take this into consideration when constructing their new office policies and make sure that those early on in their career are given the support and equipment they need."

Polly Silk, chair of OPuS, added: “At Oxford Publishing Society, we felt it was vital to be part of this opportunity to give our membership a voice on this topic. The number of responses far exceeded our expectations and there was a huge amount of food for thought that we think will be of significant value to organisations deciding what to do next and how best to meet the needs of today’s publishing workforce."

The full report can be read here.