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Dr. Matt Grawitch: December 2008 Archives

I have to say that I was a bit stunned when I read a recent article called Employees with most control take jobs home. The article reported on a poll of 2,600 US workers from 2002. The researchers found that having autonomy and more control over scheduling led people to bring work home with them. The implications of the article are that bringing work home with you is automatically associated with reductions in work-life balance (though all they measured was work-to-home conflict). Interestingly enough, while autonomy and schedule control were meaningfully predictive of the extent to which people brought work home with them, the prediction of actual work-to-home conflict by autonomy was substantially weaker, and the prediction of work-to-home conflict by schedule control was almost completely non-existent.

Yet, this discrepancy is never mentioned. Instead, the authors decide to draw the attention-grabbing conclusion that autonomy and schedule control might reduce work-life balance. What an inferential leap! This is even more surprising given the accumulation of research that shows direct positive links between work flexibility and feelings of work life balance (see Employees Benefit from Flexible Hours, Telecommuting)!

Case in point: I have a great deal of autonomy and schedule control! I regularly work less than eight hours in the office. Leaving by 4:00 pm allows me to beat rush-hour traffic. Instead of spending the last hour in the office and doubling my commute time, I bring work home with me. After my children are in bed, I often sit down for an hour or two and work on projects and tasks that I did not complete that day. Does this mean I have less work-life balance?

On the contrary, I have more work-life balance! I exercise control over how and when I allocate my time and effort to my work! That’s what work-life balance is, and that’s the purpose of autonomy and control over my work schedule. The problem is that some employees in positions that permit autonomy and scheduling control choose not to leverage those benefits, and that is the result of poor self-control or poor self-management. With increased flexibility comes increased responsibility for managing your time effectively. It seems that all too often the work-life balance crowd thinks that simply giving everyone flexibility in work schedules or work arrangements solves all of the problems associated with work-life conflict. Guess what – if you lack self-control, assertiveness, and self-management skills, having more flexible work options only creates more problems! And these problems become even worse if your boss doesn’t know how to manage people who utilize flexible work arrangements.

So, here is my advice to people who are having problems with work-life balance even though they have autonomy, scheduling control, and flexibility in their work: Consider the choices that you make that contribute to your perceptions of work-life imbalance. If you fail to exercise the necessary control, self-management, or assertiveness, you are choosing to have work-life imbalance.