For people whose jobs permit them to at least occasionally work from home, it may come as no surprise that a new study of more than 24,000 IBM employees in 75 different countries finds that workers who telecommute are generally able to strike a better balance between work and family life compared with those who must always schlep to the office. Yet this new research, published in the June issue of the Journal of Family Psychology, also reveals something that may surprise both employees and employers: workers who have a flexible schedule and are given the option to telecommute can put in significantly more hours per week before confronting conflicts between work and family life.
The study, led by E. Jeffrey Hill from the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University, found that roughly one quarter of 24,436 IBM workers said they routinely encounter conflicts trying to juggle both work and family life. Yet, when the researchers broke down their answers by specific work-schedule attributes, they found that workers who had flexible schedules and were able to telecommute generally logged 19 more hours before experiencing tension between work and family life, compared with those working solely in the office. On average, employees who worked only in the office reported struggling to balance work and family life after 38 hours of weekly work, whereas employees with flex-time and the ability to telecommute cranked out 57 hours of work before reporting a strain on work-life balance.
While the exact results varied by country included in the study, researchers found that parents of small children consistently reported the greatest benefit from flex-time and telecommuting. The study authors say that eliminating the need for a daily commute every day — which, on average, eats up nearly one hour of the day for U.S. workers — may be a large contributor to this benefit. What’s more, they point out that typical working hours don’t always correspond with individual employees’ peak productivity. As they write:
“The highest quality work hours are not always between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The best strategic ideas may come to one at 5 a.m. or at 11 p.m. Likewise, the highest quality family time may occur during the regular work day. For example, the best time to hear about school may be right after children come home from school. Putting one’s time to its best use, regardless of the hour of the day, may lead to greater work-life harmony and less conflict.”