The ubiquity of the Internet coupled with fluctuating gas prices and an increasing call for work-life balance has led many to telecommute. Unfortunately, the experience often has failed to live up to the expectations of many.
A new study suggests one reason for the discontent is that the ability to work from home adds work hours to the week. For some, telecommuting has not reduced, but rather increased work-family conflicts.
Dr. Jennifer Glass, a professor in the Department of Sociology and the Population Research Center at the University of Texas, discovered that while the home-based option is being used by some, for most employees telecommuting equates to working more hours.
The study discovered that most of the 30 percent of 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.
Glass and her colleague, Dr. 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.
Their results are published in Monthly Labor Review and 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,” Glass said.
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.
Sources: University of Texas