Unhappy in the Home Office

Why working remotely is more stressful for some.
Unhappy in the Home Office

FOR SOME PEOPLE, it can be more stressful to work from home than in the office, say Sara Perry, assistant professor of management at Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business in Waco, Texas; Cristina Rubino, professor of management at the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics at California State University in Northridge; and Emily Hunter, an associate professor of management at Baylor.

The team surveyed 403 working adults, measuring their autonomy (defined as level of independence), strain (defined as exhaustion, disengagement, and dissatisfaction), and emotional stability (referring to a person’s ability to handle stress). For instance, people high in emotional stability might respond calmly to stress and try to figure out the problem, while those low in emotional stability might spend their energy feeling frustrated or discouraged instead of dealing with the issue at hand.

The researchers had three key takeaways: Autonomy is critical to protecting remote employees’ well-being and helping them avoid strain. Employees who report high levels of autonomy and emotional stability appear to be the most able to thrive in remote-work positions. Employees reporting high levels of job autonomy with lower levels of emotional stability appear to be more susceptible to strain. In fact, the authors say that those who are lower in emotional stability may not need or want as much autonomy in their work and may not do well when working remotely.

They offer several recommendations for managers who design or oversee remote- work arrangements. First, consider employees’ behavior. “If someone does not handle stress well in the office, they are not likely to handle it well at home either,” says Perry. Second, if less emotionally stable individuals must work remotely, alleviate strain by providing resources to foster strong relationships with co-workers.

Finally, consider providing proper support for remote work. This might mean encouraging separation of work and family spaces, developing clear expectations, and providing regular contact (virtual or face-to-face) with co-workers and managers.

“Stress in Remote Work: Two Studies Testing the Demand-Control-Person Model” was published online June 29, 2018, in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology.