Home teleworkers need more time to recover after work

In the Netherlands, on average 4.6% of employees perform normal working hours at home. However, large differences emerge between occupational groups and in the relation between job demands and hours worked at home. Although working at home is perceived as improving work–life balance, in fact it is associated with needing more time for recovery after work. This may partly be caused by high job demands.

Teleworking at home is promoted as one of the ways to better combine work and family life. The opportunity to do this varies considerably between occupations, partly dependent on the ability to take work home or to carry out the work at home. On the other hand, a high workload in itself may be the cause of – when possible – taking work home.

Prevalence of working from home

In 2005 and 2006, the National Survey on Working Conditions (Nationale Enquête Arbeidsomstandigheden, NEA) found that 4.6% of the employees surveyed perform their paid work at home for at least one day a week. However, significant differences emerge between occupational groups (Figure 1). The NEA is a yearly, representative survey with information on 25,000 employees, which is conducted by the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (Nederlandse Organisatie voor toegepast-natuurwetenschappelijk onderzoek, TNO) in association with the Central Bureau of Statistics (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, CBS).

Figure 1: Working at home, by occupational group (%)

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Note: IT = information technology.

Source: NEA 2005 and 2006

Working at home, by occupational group (%)

Artists, teachers and farmers most often carry out their work at home for at least one day a week. Conversely, occupational groups like hairdressers, cooks, waiters, book-keepers, cashiers, painters and healthcare workers perform their work almost always at their work site.

Relation between job demands and hours worked at home

In addition to these differences among occupational groups, a significant variation also emerges within the groups. Figure 2 indicates a strong but curvilinear relation between job demands and the number of hours worked at home. Examples of questions used to assess job demands are: ‘Do you have to work very fast?’, ‘Do you have a lot of work?’, ‘Do you work under time pressure?’ and ‘Are you behind in your work?’

Figure 2 reveals that employees who do not work at home report lower job demands than employees who work at home at least some of the time. Employees who perform their work at home for a half or one whole day a week report the highest job demands, higher than those who do not or hardly perform their work at home, but also higher than those who perform their work at home for more than one day.

It is unclear why this curvilinear relation exists, but it may be due to the fact that people take work home because they have so much work to do. The fact that job demands are lower when one is able to perform work at home for more than one day a week may either mean that this is a specific kind of job with a lot of autonomy or associated with lower job demands.

Figure 2: Job demands, by number of hours worked at home (scale of 1–4)

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Source: NEA 2005 and 2006

Job demands, by number of hours worked at home (scale of 1–4)

Time needed to recover after work

The need for time to recover after work is an indicator strongly related to exhaustion or burnout. A connection is also found in this regard with the number of hours that people work at home (Figure 3). The greatest need for recovery according to the number of hours worked at home is again reported among those who perform their work at home for a half or one whole day a week – the same situation as applied in relation to job demands (Figure 2).

Figure 3: Need for recovery, by number of hours worked at home (scale of 0–11)

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NEA 2005 and 2006

Need for recovery, by number of hours worked at home (scale of 0–11)

Other factors

It can thus be concluded that working at home is related to high job demands and time needed for recovery. However, literature indicates that personal characteristics like motivation or engagement in the work may be important as well (Schaufeli and Bakker, 2004; Langelaan et al, 2006). Highly-engaged workers often perform their work at home for a day or more (Smulders, 2007).

References

Langelaan, S., Bakker, A.B., van Doornen, L.J.P. and Schaufeli, W.B., ‘Burnout and work engagement: Do individual differences make a difference?’, Personality and Individual Differences, Vol. 40, 2006, pp. 521–32.

Schaufeli, W.B. and Bakker, A.B., ‘Engagement in work: A construct measured’ (in Dutch), Gedrag and Organisatie, Vol. 17, 2004, pp. 89–112.

Smulders, P., ‘Engagement in work: Personality trait or the result of nice work?’ (in Dutch), Loopbaan, Vol. 12, No. 6, 2007, pp. 4–7.

Peter Smulders and Irene Houtman, TNO Work and Employment

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