The idea of working from the comfort of your own home and avoiding long commutes and the expense of office attire sounds great. But a new study from Cornell University's ILR School shows that not all remote work is created equal.
According to the study, remote work can lead to higher psychological well-being and work engagement, but only if it is done during regularly contracted hours. The researchers found that working from home outside of regular hours, which they refer to as "extension work-from-home," had negative impacts on worker well-being and job attitudes. And unfortunately, the negative effects were particularly high for women.
The researchers surveyed 7,857 employees within 814 German establishments and found that "extension work-from-home" was associated with lower psychological well-being, higher turnover intentions, and higher conflict between work and family. But "replacement work-from-home," which occurs during regular work hours, was associated with greater engagement and was not linked to higher work-family conflict or turnover.
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The study also found that "extension work-from-home" had more negative effects on women's well-being and work-to-family conflict. Women who did "extension work-from-home" reported 11% lower psychological well-being than women with similar characteristics who did not work from home.
The researchers believe that new labour standards and management practices may help guard against "extension work-from-home." For example, in France, a law was passed in 2016 giving workers the "right to disconnect" from workplace communication devices to ensure work does not spill into private time. Similarly, in Australia, large public sector unions are currently bargaining with government employers to include the right to disconnect in upcoming collective bargaining agreements.
"In the context of a tight labour market, employers may be more open to encouraging temporal boundaries to avoid worker burnout and limit turnover," said Duanyi Yang, the study's lead author.
The study reminds us that remote work can bring many benefits, but it's important to set boundaries and have clear expectations to ensure that it remains a positive experience for workers.