Flexitime Can Affect Health, Well‑being of Families, Not Just Workers
Amazon India has banned responding to calls and emails after working hours. “No business decision should be made between 6 pm and 8 am,” the email to senior staff, from Amazon India chief Amit Agarwal, reportedly wrote.
While it’s unclear whether the suggestion came from Agarwal or his global counterpart, the digital behemoth — which encouraged staff to dedicate their time at home to family and to maintaining a balanced life — might be on to something. New research from Pamplin College of Business, Virginia Tech University, US, has found that expecting employees to be digitally available through non-working hours could impact their health and well-being — and that of their families.
“The competing demands of work and non-work lives present a dilemma for employees,” says study co-author William Becker, “which triggers feelings of anxiety and endangers work and personal lives.”
The authors note that previous studies suggest tension in families when a member brings their work home for ‘flexibility,’ which in turn comes in the way of family life. But this new study, published in the journal Academy of Management Proceedings, suggests it’s not just the presence of off-hours work in the home, but even the mere expectation from an employer that an employee be digitally available 24/7 that can create a strain in personal relationships.
“Flexible work boundaries often turn into work without boundaries, compromising an employee’s and their family’s health and well-being.”
It’s an insidious problem, the study authors say. Alternative work arrangements, like flexible working hours, are often disguised as benefits that provide employees with increased convenience and greater autonomy over work-life boundaries. In some ways, they are; but when an employer’s expectations exceed an employee’s ability to manage his or her own time, negative effects set in.
“Flexible work boundaries often turn into work without boundaries, compromising an employee’s and their family’s health and well-being,” Becker adds.
He suggests clearly identifying off-hour availability as a requirement in job descriptions, and formal work-life policies — such as limiting electronic communication post-working hours — are two ways of mitigating the unintended toll on workers and families. He also suggested mindfulness exercises for employees that struggle with work bleeding into family time, pointing out that the choice to be fully present in any moment at home is within employees’ control, even if their employers’ expectations are not.
“Employees today must navigate more complex boundaries between work and family than ever before,” says Becker. “Employer expectations during non-work hours appear to increase this burden, as employees feel an obligation to shift roles throughout their non-work time. Efforts to manage these expectations are more important than ever, given our findings that employees’ families are also affected by these expectations.”
Also more important than ever? Redefining work-life balance entirely.