Working from home sounds great, right? You could stay in comfy clothes all day, start a load of laundry in between conference calls, maybe even catch up on the dishes during your lunch break.
You’d be so productive you’d have nothing to stress out about. Or maybe not.
New research by economics professors Younghwan Song and Jia Gao shows the exact opposite might be true.
Using data collected in a U.S. Census Bureau Survey (2010, 2012, 2013), they examined how subjective wellbeing varies among fulltime wage/salary employees working from home (teleworking) and those working in the office.
Those working from home, they found, were more stressed out.
They know this because survey respondents were asked to keep a detailed time-diary of a 24-hour period, and were asked when and where they conducted tasks like childcare, work and cooking. Respondents were also asked how they felt about these tasks.
“Subjective wellbeing is self-reported wellbeing, usually describing how people feel about the quality of their lives,” Gao and Song said. “We have six measures of instantaneous subjective wellbeing, including happiness, pain, sadness, stress, tiredness and meaningfulness experienced in each activity.”
All told, the researchers analyzed 11,793 activities from 3,926 respondents.
“We were a little bit surprised by the results. We find that telework reduces tiredness as expected, which is most likely because of the time and energy saved in commuting,” Gao and Song said. “But our study also finds that telework with the aim of increasing flexibility has resulted in more stress for employees.”
“Working from home does give employees more flexibility and autonomy. However, people who telework usually take work-family dual roles simultaneously,” Gao and Song said. “Blending personal and professional life may blur a person’s identity as an employee versus as a family member, and obscure the boundary between work and family-life, creating psychological tensions.”
The researchers also found that just bringing work home, as opposed to actually working from home, had a similar effect.
“Employees who bring work home are more likely doing overtime, unpaid work, which makes them unhappy,” Gao and Song said. “Blurring the work-family interface this way could also lead to more conflicts in the family and negotiations between couples.”
So what’s a well-intentioned employer to do?
“Both employers and policy-makers should recognize the stress associated with telework and the negative, net affect related to informal, overtime work,” Gao and Song said. “To enhance life quality, the government or employers should provide more supports to homeworkers, such as childcare, care for aging parents, physical supports like sufficient space to work, and social network that can sustain homeworking practices.”
“It is also necessary to regulate long working hours in order to foster work-life balance and keep a harmonious family relationship.”
To learn more about this research, visit www.iza.org and search for “Does telework stress employees out?”