Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Flexible Work Helps Families and Produces More Work

Another dispatch from the Schreyer Seminar on Marriage, Family, and Social Sciences.

Jeff Hill, now a Brigham Young professor after a career at IBM, had some of the most interesting detailed studies of the seminar, from his work on the effect of telecommuting at IBM.

The white collar professionals of IBM like to work. However, when they had to report to an office during specified hours, they had stresses from not being able to control when and where they worked, and from the rush-hour commute they had to endure. As the expected hours of work rose, Hill found a break point - the number of work hours per week at which half the workers felt the stress was too great to be worth it. With inflexible work space and time, that break point was, on average, 52 hours per week.

However, when IBM - out of dire economic necessity - instituted flexibility, they got more work out of their employees, with less stress.

For one thing, eliminating the commute removed what other researchers have found to be a chronic source of unhappiness that people do not adapt to. Hill found that when people no longer had to commute, they tended to add about half of that previously unproductive time to their work hours.

Second, the number of number of hours that IBMers could work rose until they hit a new break point of 60 hours per week.

Hill also found that women tended to make more use of flexibility in time, arranging work at home around their family schedules. Men, on the other hand, made more use of flexibility in space, working more from locations that were neither home nor office.

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