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Job autonomy blurs work-life balance: Study

People who make their own schedules tend to bring more work home,creating greater potential for family conflict, a recent study shows.

People who make their own schedules tend to bring more work home, creating greater potential for family conflict, a recent study shows.

The study by University of Toronto sociology Prof. Scott Schieman and doctoral candidate Paul Glavin surveyed 2,600 American workers. It found that those with the most job autonomy and control of their work schedules were more likely to bring extra work home with them or continue to send out work-related e-mails and make business calls.

Bringing more work home can cause more stress because it can cause the line between work and family life to disappear.

“Generally, people who had more schedule control and job autonomy had more work-family role blurring, and that’s a big predictor of stress for most people. It’s also a key indicator of work-family conflict,” Schieman said.

The lesson is that while taking calls on your BlackBerry at dinner might help you get some extra work done, it certainly won’t endear you to your family and is a likely sign you haven’t let go of the workplace.

“Having more schedule control and job autonomy often makes it hard to turn work off. If something still needs to be done after you’ve clocked out, you haven’t really clocked out," Schieman said.

While modern technology has made greater flexibility in the workplace possible, Schieman says freedom comes with a new price: Expectation.

“The flexibility cuts both ways because you’re always available and people in the workplace know that. The old idea of ‘normal’ work hours just seems to be redefined for many people,” he said.

Along with a greater expectation that you’ll be available at all hours, greater stress and responsibility often increase as well, since gaining more freedom over your schedule and hours usually means a promotion of some kind. As a result, Schieman says it can be hard to turn the phone off, even if you want to.

“There’s an obligatory side to (bringing work home) that puts pressure on people. Higher status work comes with greater responsibility and no one wants to be seen as a slacker,” Schieman said.

Ultimately, Schieman hopes the study will shed light on one of the downsides of work with “flexible” hours.

“Most people see greater schedule control and autonomy as positive things, but they can cause difficulties for people trying to keep a balance between their work and family lives,” he said.

 

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