A recent study about telecommuting echoes an old adage: Misery loves company. While the option of working from home makes employees happier and often more productive, it may have the opposite affect on those still stuck at the office.
Perhaps it’s just the mere thought that their coworkers get to pass the day in their pajamas and see their kids before 7 pm, that they don’t have to get up, get dressed, make the drive, and rush to get things done at lunch.
The study didn’t really get into those details, just that employees that remain at work while coworkers telecommute tend to be less satisfied and have a lower probability of remaining with the company. The greater the prevalence of teleworkers, the higher the chances are employees at the office aren’t happy about their station.
The study comes from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and was published in a recent issue of the journal Human Relations. It looked at a sample of 240 professional employees at a medium-sized company. That could be telling as well; the study doesn’t seem to measure the culture of that particular company and what, if any, impact that may have had on employee satisfaction.
About 37 percent of US-based and foreign companies offer flexible work arrangements like telecommuting, and the number is growing at about 11 percent a year. The increase is spurring interest in the impact such policies have on employees.
“Interest and research in telework as a work modality to ease conflicts between work and family domains has grown tremendously,” said Timothy Golden, associate professor in the Lally School of Management & Technology at Rensselaer.
“Studies to date however, have investigated telework’s impacts on the teleworkers themselves, rather than on those who work with teleworkers but remain in the office. This study shifts the research lens to investigate the impacts of telework on non-teleworkers in the office.”
Golden acknowledges that other factors may come into play to increase or decrease job satisfaction or intentions to leave the company. These include the amount of time coworkers telecommute, how much face-to-face interaction occurs, and the amount of job autonomy allowed to employees.
Employees who have to come into the office while coworkers telecommute may tend to find the workplace less enjoyable, have fewer and weaker emotional ties to coworkers, and feel less obligated to the company.
“While reasons for the adverse impact on non-teleworker’s satisfaction are varied, it potentially could be due to coworker’s perceptions that they have decreased flexibility and a higher workload, and the ensuing greater frustration that comes with coordinating in an environment with more extensive co-worker telework,” said Golden.
“In addition, it may be that with a greater prevalence of teleworkers in a work unit, non-teleworkers may find it less personally fulfilling to conduct their work due to the increased obstacles to building and maintaining effective and rewarding co-worker relationships.”
That doesn’t mean allowing telecommuting is a bad idea, though. It has very positive impacts on the employees who are able to do so. It may mean that employers need to be more vigilant in ensuring employees at the office get the face-time and autonomy they need.
But don’t expect them to like neckties or high heels.