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Study: Telecommuting May Equal More Work, Compromised Work-Life Balance

Dec. 5, 2012
Various studies have lauded the benefits of telecommuting, suggesting it can boost employee productivity and morale, improve work-life balance and combat stress. But according to a new study, telecommuting could result in employees working longer hours and struggling to separate work time from personal time.

Thirty percent of employees who work from home add 5-7 additional hours to their workweek compared to those who work only at the office, according to researchers at the University of Texas at Austin. Employees who telecommute also are more likely to work overtime and may find that their work life is bleeding into their home life, thus breaking down the barrier between work time and personal time.

“Since telecommuting is intrinsically linked to information technologies that facilitate 24/7 communication between clients, coworkers, and supervisors, telecommuting can potentially increase the penetration of work tasks into home time,” the study stated.

Using 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 – Jennifer Glass, professor in the Department of Sociology and the Population Research Center, and her colleague, Mary Noonan, associate professor of sociology at the University of Iowa, analyzed trends in the use of telecommuting among employees and employers in the U.S. civilian workforce.

The results indicate 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.

“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,” said Glass.

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 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.

The study was published in Monthly Labor Review.

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