The June Monthly Labor Review published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (U.S. Department of Labor) had an interesting article about the surprising impacts of telecommuting in the U.S. workforce. Surprising because the data analysis show that telecommuting hasn’t taken hold to any strong degree in the U.S. And where it has taken hold, the impact isn’t positive: from an employee perspective, the data suggest that the impact of telecommuting is negative from a work/life integration view!
Wait. What? Isn’t telecommuting the perk that allows employees more flexibility and balance between work and personal life? Well, no. The data suggest not so much.
The Hard Truth About Telecommuting, by Noonan and Glass, says: “telecommuting appears, instead, to have become instrumental in the general expansion of work hours, facilitating workers’ needs for additional work time beyond the standard workweek and/or the ability of employers to increase or intensify work demands among their salaried employees.”
The average number of hours worked per week from home by telecommuters is small. And hasn’t been growing to any great degree since the mid-1990’s. What is interesting is that most of telecommuting hours are overtime hours – they aren’t replacing office hours, they appear to be growing overtime hours. So while more and more employers tout their “work-flex” telecommuting policies, the percentage of workers who telecommute isn’t growing.
Also surprising, is that younger workers are not telecommuting any more often than more mature workers and parents aren’t telecommuting more than the population as a whole!
The big value of telecommuting, according to this report, appears to accrue to a very few higher level professional employees. For the rest, it actually appears to encourage longer work weeks. As the report surmises, being available to telecommute may actually allow employers to increase expectation for work availability during evenings and weekends encouraging longer workdays and workweeks – the exact opposite of the intent.
It might be interesting to take a look at your organization’s use of telecommuting and determine whether this “flexible” approach is creating more or less stress, more or the same hours, more or the same productivity – and if it’s being utilized effectively. In other words, is it an ineffective perk that feels good to offer and merely looks great on the “best” lists or is it a productivity and engagement tool that is actually producing value for your workforce?