I knew it! Here I have been talking about how important having control over when, where, and how you work is for wellbeing, and the other day I opened the newspaper to find that there has been a study that shows – drum roll please – that having control over when, where, and how you work has a direct affect on wellbeing. Notice how this is exactly what I said? (See also my earlier post ‘Control’)
Seriously though, Orfeu Buxton, Associate professor at Penn State, and colleagues conducted a study of 474 employees in the US. Half of the group had complete control over when and where they worked and the other half – the control group (ironically the group without control) – didn’t. The control group, in other words, worked like most people still work in the corporate world, and elsewhere.
The group that had complete flexibility (real flexibility, this is not the same as the flexible time systems that many companies offer their employees) experienced less work-family conflict and actually got more sleep, than did the control group. And this, in turn, had a direct effect on their wellbeing.
The thing about flexible time (for example, being able to come in an hour earlier or later and in turn leave earlier or later in the afternoon), that many of you probably are familiar with, is that while it sounds like a good idea, research has shown that it actually creates a feeling of having less time. Flexible time was first developed especially for women to alleviate the challenge of combining a career with care responsibilities. But the flexibility in flexible time is, in reality, a relative thing. For many women especially, flexible time simply allows work to more effectively spill over into other areas of life. This means taking work home, and working while also caring for children. And I’ve seen another study once that shows that multi-tasking – doing several things at the same time – leads to an acute feeling of time running out. This intensity of time is simply stressful.
Men use flexible time differently. Since they don’t have care responsibilities to the same extent as women (women continue to do of the brunt of care and household chores, whether or not they are pursuing a career), men can use flexible time as it was intended – to give them some more freedom and flexibility. And as men generally have more to say regarding workplace policies and culture, organizations don’t necessarily recognize the problem.
However, this study on control and wellbeing conducted at Penn State, shows that when we don’t have to worry about working eight hours straight, or however long your workday is, in an office but have control over when and where we work, we can focus on getting the job done and not just how many hours we clock at the office. The people who participated in the study worked more in the mornings and evenings and were better able to combine work with their other responsibilities and life needs. And even though they were working more in the mornings and evenings, they actually got more sleep.
This is a hugely important finding. And it makes me so pleased because I truly believe we are at a crossroads. Companies and organizations will eventually simply have to see the importance of adopting alternative solutions for work and adjust accordingly in order to survive on the fast-changing, increasingly competitive global market. So those of you out there in a position to make a difference and implement some changes, please do!