Flexible work options have taken on a certain cachet among parents, as if telecommuting or working non-traditional hours will go a long way toward solving our work-life balance challenges.
In the glut of “can we have it all” essays published in recent months, after the mother of them all hit the cover of The Atlantic this past summer, many have suggested that if employers would lighten up on the face time demands and 9-5 (or 6 or 7) culture, family life would reap the rewards.
As a worker who enjoys telecommuting flexibility, I have been wondering if the benefits of these arrangements are overblown. There are great benefits to being home and available for family emergencies, but I have also struggled to contain my work into a set of fixed hours.
Eventually, I accepted that the price of flexibility, for me, has been to work more hours than I am paid to, and to put my effort into compartmentalizing my work and family time.
Now comes a study that suggests I have plenty of company. A new report from researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and published in the Monthly Labor Review has found that most employees who work remotely work more hours and have more homelife stress.
Telecommuters in the study added, on average, five to seven hours to their workweek compared with those who work exclusively at the office. They were also significantly less likely to work a standard 40-hour schedule and more likely to work overtime.
Lead author Jennifer Glass, professor in the Department of Sociology and the Population Research Center, and her team relied on the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and the U.S. Census Bureau’s to analyze telecommuting trends.
They found that “telecommuting causes work to seep into home life” and that “a majority of tech-savvy workers claim that telecommuting technology has increased their overall work hours and that employees use technology, especially e-mail, to perform work tasks even when sick or on vacation.”
A side, but important, finding was that telecommuting options were not doled out to workers seeking family life balance, as much as they were to high status workers.
“Telecommuting has not permeated the American workplace,” the researchers concluded, “and where it has become commonly used, it is not very helpful in reducing work-family conflicts. Instead, it appears to have allowed employers to impose longer workdays, facilitating workers’ needs to add hours to the standard workweek.”
Do you have a flexible work routine? Do you find it as beneficial as you expected?