Working from home ('teleworking') sounds cushdy: after all, you're your own boss, the commute entails crawling out of bed to your desk, and you don't have anyone checking how long you took for lunch. But at what cost? That's the question posed by Terry Hartig and colleagues who investigated the possibility that teleworking compromises the home as a place of refuge and restoration.
When the Swedish National Energy Administration relocated from Stockholm to Eskilstuna, 60 miles away, employees who stayed in their jobs were given the option to work from home for up to three days a week. Hartig and colleagues surveyed 58 employees who took the teleworking option, together with 43 employees who continued doing all their work in the office. The researchers were particularly interested in how much overlap the employees experienced between their work and home lives.
To their surprise, the researchers found that overall, the teleworking employees didn't experience any greater overlap between their work and home lives compared with the employees who always worked at the office. However, there was a crucial difference between the sexes. Whereas male teleworkers actually reported experiencing less overlap between their work and private lives than the male employees at the office, the reverse was true for female teleworkers, for whom working at home had led to increased work/life overlap.
“This result bears on the possibility that women are more susceptible to the costs of telework”, the researchers said. The finding is consistent with research published in 2000 that found female teleworkers tended to spend more time engaged in domestic chores than male teleworkers with the same work load.
Another finding from the current study was that setting aside a room in the home for work doesn't necessarily prevent work/life overlap. While teleworkers who set aside a room reported less 'spatial overlap' between their work and private lives, they didn't report any less mental overlap. “Out of sight need not mean out of mind”, the researchers said.
Hartig, T. Kylin, C. & Johansson, G. (2007). The telework tradeoff: Stress mitigation vs. constrained restoration. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 56, 231-253.
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.