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Flexibility at Work Increases
Happiness at Home

A little flexibility at work can stretch a long way when it comes to keeping employees happy and productive, a new report shows.

According to a study published in Family Relations, individuals who believed that their manager was flexible with their work hours and work location were able to work more before reaching their breaking point--where competing demands felt overwhelming.

In an interview with Reuters Health, Dr. E. Jeffrey Hill from the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, likened flexibility in the workplace to ``a shock absorber for the stress of long work hours.''

For example, having flexibility at work provides employees with more options for where to live and allows them to spend more time with children and on household chores--at little or no expense to the company, Hill and colleagues explain.

In this era of increasing workload, ``flexibility in when and where work is done offers exciting possibilities for helping families to thrive,'' Hill said.

Indeed, the average US employee spends about six additional 40-hour weeks on the job each year compared with an employee in the 1960s, Hill and colleagues write. Even the daily commute is not without hassles, averaging 45 minutes a day in jam-packed buses and trains and sometimes in bad weather.

For two-career couples with children, trying to juggle work and family responsibilities can be a precarious balancing act. What's more, people who feel inundated with work and family demands tend to fight more with their spouse, have less knowledge of their children's experiences, are more likely to abuse alcohol and have a poorer quality of life, overall.

All of this can spill over into an employee's performance at work.

And whereas balancing work and family was previously considered a woman's issue, it now affects men who have begun to take on more responsibilities for childcare and household chores, the researchers note.

The results of the study are based on data from a survey of more than 6,400 people working at International Business Machines (IBM) in 1996.

About half of employees said they had trouble balancing their work and home lives. Men reported slightly longer hours at work while women reported spending more time on chores at home.

Only 28% of individuals working 40 hours to 50 hours a week with both flextime and flexplace said they had a hard time balancing work and home, compared with 46% who did not believe that either policy was available to them.

And 29% of people with flextime expressed difficulty, compared with 44% of those without flextime. Those with flextime could work 60 hours a week before they felt overwhelmed, compared with 44 hours for people without flextime.

Giving employees some control over when and where they work can help them to manage the competing demands, the researchers conclude.

However, some people may become unable to separate work and home.

``Individuals must show restraint and not use the ability to work wherever and whenever to the extreme of working all the time and everywhere,'' Hill said. ``Giving a workaholic complete flexibility may be akin to giving an alcoholic a bottle of gin.''

SOURCE: Family Relations 2001;50:49-58.


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