Congratulations, cog! You’ve just been ostensibly gifted with every corporate minnow’s dream: You get to work from home and decide which hours you want to work and which hours you don’t. You’re your own boss now!
Lol, just kidding, everything is terrible, including this seemingly pleasant new development.
Now, before I destroy your dream of an ideal work-life balance bolstered by more flexible work hours, let’s take a moment to at least acknowledge some of the benefits of your newly appointed “privilege.” First and foremost, flexible job hours means flexibility to meet family needs, personal obligations and life responsibilities, according to TheBalanceCareers.com. “If you have a flexible schedule, you can go to a parent-teacher conference during the day, take a yoga class or be home when the washing machine repair person comes,” per their report.
That’s right, flexible job hours means more yoga! It also means spending less money on commuting as well as a general feeling of greater control over the hours of your life that you spend awake.
But here’s where that entire concept goes wrong: According to a new German study, the opposite is true. “A study of German workers has found that men, in particular, work longer hours when working flexibly,” reports WeForum.com. “Working from home, it turns out, is characterized by early starts and late finishes.”
According to Art Markman, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas and author of Bring Your Brain to Work, part of the reason why work flexibility is actually detrimental for work-life balance is because men tend to be achievement-oriented. “When people have a fixed set of work hours, then there’s a clear baseline expectation for work, and someone who wants to demonstrate that they’re going above and beyond will work a little extra,” says Markman. “But, when there are no fixed hours, then there isn’t a clear baseline. So, people will have to do something extraordinary to show a strong commitment. That leads to longer hours.”
Additionally, the study found that men and women use flexible working hours differently. While men tended to work four hours of unpaid overtime work when working flexibly, women tended to do one hour of overtime a week. So basically, flexible work hours not only mean you’re working more hours, it’s also further reenforcing uneven childcare duties. “‘Work flexibility helps make job and family more compatible, but it can simultaneously cement the classic role divisions between men and women, or even make them stronger,’ said the study’s author Yvonne Lott, of the Foundation’s Institute of Economic and Social Research,” reports WeForum.
Markman suggests that this gender disparity is a result of something he refers to as “opportunistic planning.” Essentially, when you have an active goal and you notice something related to that goal, it triggers an action related to fulfill said goal. “In this culture, women often take on more child care responsibility than men,” he says. “So, women have goals related to child care that are active all the time. As a result, they will be reminded of those goals more frequently when working from home, and so they will then put in hours on child care. Men will not generally be triggered in this way, and so they will put in fewer hours.”
But of course, Markman notes that this disparity exists mainly because of differing societal focuses amongst men and women in the general population. “Men are more focused on achievement than women, on average,” he says. “Women are more focused on family than men, on average.”
All of which raises the question: If flexible policies like working from home, or deciding which hours you want to work, are often working in the employers’ favor, why are so many employees eager to be rewarded with the flexible work experience?
“As a society, we value flexibility,” says Markman. “However, habits develop quickly that can lead to behaviors (like working too much) that are bad in the long-term. Structures like a work day or enforced vacation time actually help people to break out of those routines.”
That’s right, cog, you read that correctly: Structured work hours are actually the key, not the kryptonite, to living with a little less routine.