Working from home may not improve work-life balance for everyone, study finds

Posted on Thursday, February 25, 2016

Even though working from home, known as teleworking, may improve an employee’s work-life balance, a recent study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior has found that it sometimes may have the opposite effect, especially when the employee is forced to work from home.

Professor Laurent M. Lapierre, of the Telfer School of Management at the University of Ottawa, led a team that studied 251 financial sales professionals who were recently required to work from home most of the time. They surveyed the employees one month before, three months after, and one year after the company implemented a cost-saving measure that eliminated employee access to a central office.

The study aimed to gauge whether the employees would experience greater work-family conflict (work demands interfering with family obligations) when forced to work from home more often. “Several studies have shown a link between higher work-family conflict and decreased job satisfaction and performance, adverse health impacts, and higher employee turnover,” said Lapierre. The researchers found that some employees experienced significantly more work-family conflict after they were forced to work from home.

However, the study revealed that the level of work-family conflict experienced varied considerably from one employee to the next. Those who were not very confident in their ability to successfully balance work and family obligations at the onset of the new policy were most likely to report the highest increase in work-family conflict. In contrast, employees who were initially more confident in their ability to balance work and family saw no change in their levels of work-family conflict when they began working from home more often.

Taking these results into consideration, Lapierre recommends that companies proceed cautiously when implementing policies that force staff to work from home: doing so may cause problems that outweigh the savings in overhead.

Also, Lapierre urges managers to improve their employees’ confidence in balancing work and family obligations. He recommends offering employees advice that is tailored to their specific needs, providing them with examples of successful work-family balance strategies, and recognizing the employees’ efforts to balance both roles. Doing so should help ensure that telework, whether imposed or not, is of greatest value to both employees and their employers.

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