As the objective of improving employee wellness becomes increasingly more prevalent amongst employers, the workforce is beginning to see a variety of initiatives implemented with the intent of mitigating stress in the workplace. Countless research has confirmed that flexible working has the potential to increase employee job satisfaction, and as such, many companies and organizations have begun to offer this benefit to their employees. However, there have been cases where flexible work hours have actually been shown to have a trivial, or even adverse, effect on employees.
Research conducted by Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business explores the effects of remote work and flexible work hours on employee well-being. The research team surveyed 403 working adults to determine the relationship between three characteristics: autonomy, strain, and emotional stability.
Prior to this research, the belief was that the autonomy provided by flexible work is universally beneficial for employee well-being; however, the researchers found that some employees are much better suited for this type of work. The need for autonomy varies amongst employees and is strongly correlated with their perceived level of emotional stability.
The study concluded that employees who report a high level of autonomy in conjunction with a high level of emotional stability are more resilient to strain and tend to be successful in remote work settings, while employees who report a high level of autonomy paired with a low level of emotional stability are notably more susceptible to stress and are less likely to thrive in remote work settings.
Another study, conducted through Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business, implies an additional detriment of flexible work hours. The researchers determined that flexible work schedules blur the line between personal time and work time, adding strain to employees and their families. According to William Becker, a co-author of the study, “the competing demands of work and non-work lives present a dilemma for employees, which triggers feelings of anxiety and endangers work and personal lives."
Even further, they found that employees do not even need to be actively engaged in work to experience the harmful effects, as the mere notion that they must be constantly available for their employers is enough to induce stress and strain. Often, this expectation of availability is falsely perceived as an added dimension of convenience by the employers who offer it, while the employees involved are actually suffering.
Flexible work schedules have the potential to increase productivity and improve employee wellness if employers understand how this perk is best executed. It is important to evaluate which specific employees are emotionally equipped to work in an independent manner. Typically, employees who struggle with managing stress in the office will have just as much trouble, or more, dealing with these issues remotely. Moreover, it is the responsibility of company management to set reasonable expectations and limitations, if needed, for remote employees’ workloads. Employers should educate their employees about managing stress, being mindful, and knowing how to separate their work and personal lives, especially when both aspects of their life take place in the same setting.