As I often tell people, we don’t spend as much of our lives working as we think we do. With 168 hours in a week, if you work 40 and sleep 56, that leaves 72 hours for other things. Even if you have an hour-long commute each way (which most people don’t), that would leave 62 hours for other things.
This is a lot of time, yet many full-time workers who spend 45 hours working and 5 hours commuting feel like they don’t have time for their personal lives at all. I’ve been trying to figure out why that is, and so I was quite happy to come across fascinating new research from IBM and Brigham Young University about this topic. (Thanks to Sue Shellenbarger of The Juggle at the WSJ for finding this).
It turns out that not all work hours are the same. The BYU researchers calculated a “break point,” that is, the point where 25 percent of workers reported that work was interfering with family life. Among people who have to log all their hours in an office during certain times, this break point happened at 38 hours. Since many full-time workers log 40-45 hours per week, this means a lot of people are feeling conflict.
If you give employees some flexibility about their schedules, though, and give them the option to work some of the time from home, the break point doesn’t hit until 57 hours. That’s 19 more hours per week — 50 percent more than the office-only workers, and the equivalent of 2.5 full days.
Now that is a lot of time. And the crazy thing is, you probably won’t have to pay people more either for these additional 2.5 days that are on the table. That’s because we are so conditioned to think of flex schedules/telecommuting as “perks.” We consider these favors bestowed by management, always carrying with them a tinge of worry that you won’t really be productive.
I think this study can put that idea to rest. Not only are telecommuters less likely to want to leave their employers (a finding from a meta-analysis of 46 studies published in the November 2007 Journal of Applied Psychology), they won’t mind long hours as much. Sounds like a good business case to me.