Telecommuting give employees flexibility to work outside the office, but there’s evidence it add hours to the workweek with little to no extra pay.
A new study based on a long-running national survey of American workers with a standard 40-hour work week finds that people who opt to work at least part of the time away from the office ended up working an average of three hours more per week, taking away from home and family time.
The findings, published in the journal Social Forces, may change workers’ perceptions of the value of telecommuting and could spur employers to better define the work-at-home workday.
“To think that telecommuting eases the burden may be a little simplistic,” says Mary Noonan, associate professor in sociology at the University of Iowa. “It cuts down on commuting time, and it appears to add more flexibility to the work day. But it can extend the day, and it doesn’t get you much more in terms of wage growth.”
Researchers drew their findings from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which polled workers at regular intervals from 1989 to 2008. Among midlife employees, more than 40 percent of salaried workers reported working from home at some point during the survey period.
“It doesn’t seem like telecommuting is used by people to replace work hours. When people telecommute, they use it mostly to do more work.”
The study looked at workers who had worked for the same employer and had telecommuted at least some of the time.
Among that group, there was little difference in earnings growth between employees who worked at home from those who stayed at the office in the standard work week. In addition, the survey showed female employees who telecommute were paid the same as men for the 40-hour work week.
“Employers are becoming perhaps more and more cognizant that men and women are dividing housework more evenly,” Noonan says. “Perhaps the employers look at men and women more similarly today than maybe 30, 40 years ago.”
However, the downside becomes apparent when overtime comes into play. The study suggests that salaried employees who telecommute simply extend their work week, Noonan says. “It doesn’t seem like telecommuting is used by people to replace work hours. When people telecommute, they use it mostly to do more work.”
So, why do employees choose to do it?
In an era of smartphones, employees are more likely to take work home, such as checking and responding to emails. People working at home may feel more pressure to demonstrate their productivity than those who are visible in the office, in supervisors’ plain sight. Working mothers may experience added stress as they juggle home life with work.
The aftershocks of the Great Recession, which ended in June 2009, may exacerbate those emotions.
“Employers are demanding more of their workers. It’s a rat race in some respects,” Noonan says. “There’s a lot more stress with some people that if they don’t do more, they could lose their jobs, and if they don’t do their job, stay connected, the next person will. It’s hard when there’s anxiety about performing.”
Employers that understand the advantage of offering telecommuting as a perk to attract talented workers are more likely to discourage overtime worked from home, or at least pay for it. But employees need to make sure they’re tracking their time and keeping their bosses apprised, Noonan says.
“People should be aware of telling their employer of what they accomplish when they work at home or work overtime.”
Jennifer Glass, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin is a coauthor of the study that was supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Source: University of Iowa