“Now, according to Pew Research, almost 60% of employees are working from home at least most of the time.” So reads the 2nd sentence of a post in one of the trendiest HR content platforms.
This “60%” data point is blatantly incorrect and not at all what Pew Research Center found. This is important.
To its merit, the HR article links to a summary of the Pew findings, which reads, in its 1st (but poorly crafted) sentence, “roughly six-in-ten U.S. workers who say their jobs can mainly be done from home (59%) are working from home all or most of the time.”
Later, Pew recognizes, “Most U.S. workers (60%) don’t have jobs that can be done from home.”
If my calculations are correct (as they occasionally are), this means only 40% of employees can work at home. Only 59% of them do — meaning 24% of respondents work from home all or most of the time. That is, 59% of the 40% who CAN work from home, which equals 24%.
24%, not 60%. Big difference.
Why is this important? HR leaders who read this article will glom onto the incorrect stat — 60% of employees work from home — in defiance of common sense and observation. Exaggerated stats like this tend to get repeated. Attitudes, policies, and decisions are likely to be influenced by this unfounded notion that a large majority of employees work from home.
Further, vast numbers of employees who can’t work from home will continue to feel overlooked and alienated, exacerbating the disparities and polarization that plague us.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Employees who can’t work from home are more likely to be lower-income, lack a college degree, rent their dwellings, be non-white, and lack employer-provided health insurance. Acting as if they don’t exist flies in the face of the diversity, equity, and inclusion values most HR leaders purport to hold dear. We shake our fists at “privilege,” but how privileged must we be to believe that 60% of US employees work from home?
Human resources. Not only are many of us often oblivious to data accuracy, but also to the retail workers, food service workers, factory workers, agricultural workers, miners, transportation workers, first responders, construction workers, and healthcare workers who our data excludes.
[A good resource is the National Bureau of Economic Research paper, based on pre-pandemic data, “How Many Jobs Can be Done at Home,” which found 37 percent of US jobs can plausibly be performed at home. Also, my previous post, Work-from-Home Is Usually Out of Reach.]