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Living longer: impact of working from home on older workers

5. Older workers switching to working from home during the pandemic¹

It appears that working from home has some benefits for older workers and may enable some to stay in the labour market for longer. However, working from home has not been an option for all.

Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (January and February 2020), around 66.8% of workers aged 50 years and over¹ said that they “never” worked from home². Of these workers, 41.5% “switched” to working from home “sometimes, often or always” at some point during the pandemic (April 2020 to March 2021).

Characteristics of older workers pre-pandemic (Jan to Dec 2019) were compared for those who switched and did not switch to working from home at some point during the pandemic (April 2020 to March 2021).

Those aged in their 50s were more likely to switch to working from home than those in their 60s and women were more likely to switch to working from home (44.9%) than men (37.9%).

Women aged 50 years and over who worked full-time were more likely to have switched to working from home during the pandemic (54.1%) than women who worked part-time (37.8%). However, women working part-time were twice as likely to always work from home pre-pandemic. For men aged 50 years and over, there was no difference between full-time and part-time workers in the likelihood of switching to working from home.

Over half of older workers who switched to working from home were in managerial and professional occupations. Those working in science, research, engineering and technology, teaching and education, business media and public service, administrative occupations and as corporate managers were more likely to say they had switched than not.

Around half of those who did not switch to working from home were in semi-routine and routine occupations with those working in secretarial occupations, skilled metal electrical and electronic trades, caring personal service, leisure, travel and personal service, sales occupations, process plant and machine operative, transport and mobile machine drivers and operatives, elementary trades and related occupations, elementary administration occupations being more likely to say that had not switched to working from home.

Older workers who switched to working from home were more likely to have a degree or other higher-level degree than those who did not switch, who were more likely to have GCSE or other as their highest qualification or no qualifications. They were also more likely to live in less deprived areas than those who had not switched³.

Older workers who switched to working from home tended to be in better health prior to the onset of the pandemic than those who did not, with 84.4% of “switchers” reporting “excellent”, “very good” or “good” health compared with 78.5% of those that did not switch. Conversely switchers were less likely report “fair” or “poor” health.

Older workers with a limiting long-standing illness were also less likely to have switched to working from home during the pandemic than those without a condition.⁴

Those older workers who switched to working from home during the pandemic were also more likely to report being satisfied with life overall than non-switchers pre-pandemic (76.9% compared with 70.2%).

Notes for Older workers switching to working from home during the pandemic

  1. This is calculated for those born during or before 1971 so may include some people aged 49 pre-pandemic.
  2. If infrequent (“sometimes”) working from home is included, this rises to 85%.
  3. Switchers defined from analysis of question in Opinions and Lifestyle (OPN) Survey 23 June to 18 July 2021 asking respondents if they worked from home before the pandemic and if they worked from home at all during the last seven days.
  4. Switchers defined from analysis of question in OPN survey 23 June to 18 July 2021 asking respondents if they worked from home before the pandemic and if they worked from home at all during the last seven days.

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