New study shows boundary blurring between work and home
With fluctuating gas prices and the increasing call for work-life balance, telecommuting has become a benefit touted by some companies. Yet according to a new study from The University of Texas at Austin, for most telecommuters it may be adding extra work hours to their day.
Thirty percent of the study’s respondents who work from home add five to seven hours to their workweek compared with those who work exclusively at the office. They are also significantly less likely to work a standard 40-hour schedule and more likely to work overtime. In fact, most telecommuting hours occur after an employee has already put in 40 hours of work at the office.
For Charul Vyas, a University of Texas at Austin ’97 journalism alumna, telecommuting provided her the flexibility she desired while working full time as a market research analyst and pursuing her Master of Business Administration, but she says it is important to set boundaries.
“It was harder to separate work and home,” Vyas says. “When my work phone rang at 8 p.m. because a client on the West Coast was working late, I felt obligated to answer it.
“You are not driving to and from work, so you are able to work earlier and later,” she adds. “Most of the time I did not go out to lunch, since my kitchen was just downstairs. I also had fewer distractions such as chatting with coworkers.”
“Careful monitoring of this blurred boundary between work and home time and the erosion of ‘normal working hours’ in many professions can help us understand the expansion of work hours overall among salaried workers,” says Jennifer Glass, professor in the Department of Sociology and the Population Research Center and lead author of the study.
Glass and her co-author Mary Noonan, associate professor of sociology at the University of Iowa, found that telecommuting causes work to seep into home life, a problem previously identified in the 2008 Pew Networked Workers survey. According to the survey, a majority of tech-savvy workers claim that telecommuting technology has increased their overall work hours and that employees use technology, especially email, to perform work tasks even when sick or on vacation.
Vyas recommends setting up a designated work zone that is separate from the rest of the house, closing the door and not answering the phone or email during set times after hours.
“This is harder to do now with email on smart phones, but it’s something worth trying,” she says.
The researchers also found the labor demand for work-family accommodation does not seem to propel the distribution of telecommuting hours. In fact, parents with dependent children are no more likely to work from home than the population as a whole. According to the findings, employees with authority and status are more likely than others to have the option to work remotely because they have more control of their work schedules.
The results of the study are published in Monthly Labor Review. The survey uses two nationally representative data sources—the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 panel and special supplements from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.
The authors conclude that telecommuting has not permeated the American workplace, 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.