Does Telework Stress Employees Out? A Study on Working at Home and Subjective Well-Being for Wage/Salary Workers

Abstract

With the expansion of high-speed internet during the recent decades, a growing number of people are working from home. Yet there is no consensus on how working from home affects workers’ well-being in the literature. Using data from the 2010, 2012, and 2013 American Time Use Survey Well-Being Modules, this paper examines how subjective well-being varies among wage/salary workers between working at home and working in the workplace using individual fixed-effects models. We find that compared to working in the workplace, bringing work home on weekdays is associated with less happiness, and telework on weekdays or weekends/holidays is associated with more stress. The effect of working at home on subjective well-being also varies by parental status and gender. Parents, especially fathers, report a lower level of subjective well-being when working at home on weekdays but a higher level of subjective well-being when working at home on weekends/holidays. Non-parents’ subjective well-being does not vary much by where they work on weekdays, but on weekends/holidays childless males feel less painful whereas childless females feel more stressed when teleworking instead of working in the workplace. This paper provides new evidence on the impact of working at home and sheds lights for policy makers and employers to re-evaluate the benefits of telework.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    We calculate the statistics using the 2003 and 2016 American Time Use Surveys. The sample is restricted to non-self-employed wage/salary workers.

  2. 2.

    Using the 2003–2007 American Time Use Surveys, Allard and Lacey (2009) show that about 12% of full-time workers with a single job did some work at home on an average day during their study period. They restrict the sample to full-time workers with a single job and include self-employed workers, whereas we limit the sample to full-time non-self-employed workers. Therefore, their estimates are not directly comparable to ours.

  3. 3.

    The statistics are from GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com based on an analysis of the 2005–2015 American Community Surveys. Website: http://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/telecommuting-statistics.

  4. 4.

    We do not use multilevel or hierarchical models because they assume the error terms are uncorrelated with the independent variables. If this assumption is violated, the estimates are biased (Townsend et al. 2013). As explained in this section, due to individual heterogeneity, the error terms are likely to be correlated with homeworking decisions. In such a case, fixed effects models are used to obtain unbiased estimates.

  5. 5.

    The American Time Use Survey classifies activities into 17 first-tier categories. One of the categories is working, and the others are nonworking activities, including personal care; household activities; caring for and helping household members; caring for and helping non-household members; education; consumer purchases; professional and personal care services; household services (not done by self); government services & civic obligations; eating and drinking; socializing, relaxing and leisure; sports, exercise and recreation; religious and spiritual activities; volunteer activities; telephone calls; and travelling.

  6. 6.

    One limitation of our study is that the survey does not directly ask respondents which type of homeworking they performed. As a result, we distinguish the two types of homeworking by using commuting information, which is not an ideal way. We could not exclude the possibility that bringing work home is misclassified as telework in the sample of weekends/holidays because bringing work home on Friday and finishing it during weekends are mistakenly treated as teleworking on weekends according to our definition. To be consistent, we use the same definition of telework and bringing work home in both samples of weekdays and weekends. Since some episodes of bringing work home may be misclassified as telework, we cannot exclude the possibility that the effect of telework on SWB in the sample of weekends/holidays we observe is driven by the actual bringing work home. This also explains why we have very few episodes of bringing work home in the sample of weekends/holidays.

  7. 7.

    While the American Time Use Survey collects information regarding secondary childcare for children under 13, there is no such information for eldercare. So we have controlled for whether the respondent was with parents or non-household adults, including parents-in-law, during the episode.

  8. 8.

    The American Time Use Survey asks respondents to choose “class of worker code” (main job) from the following categories: 1 government, federal; 2 government, state; 3 government, local; 4 private, for profit; 5 private, nonprofit; 6 self-employed, incorporated; 7 self-employed, unincorporated; and 8 without pay. People who choose from categories 1 to 5 are considered as wage/salary workers; that is to say, they are not self-employed.

  9. 9.

    The descriptive statistics for episode-level independent variables are reported in “Appendix” Table 7. Individual-level characteristics are also reported in the table for reference, even though they are not included in the fixed-effects regressions, as described above. Although not reported in the table, regardless of samples of weekdays or weekends/holidays, people working at home are older, better educated, and more likely to be Whites and married; they have a higher level of family income and usually work longer hours than those working in the workplace, but episodes of working at home are shorter in duration than episodes of working in the workplace.

  10. 10.

    In supplementary analysis (not shown here but available upon request), we employ OLS models to assess the effect of individual characteristics on SWB. These models control for a wide range of individual characteristics but the results are slightly different from fixed-effects results. OLS results show that on weekdays there is no significant difference in SWB between working in the workplace and working at home, but on weekends/holidays bringing work home is associated with a lower level of pain relative to working in the workplace, whereas telework is associated with a higher level of stress. The inconsistency between OLS and fixed-effects results further demonstrate the importance to control for individual heterogeneity.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank seminar participants at the International Association for Time-use Research Conference in Seoul, Korea, and A World to Win Conference at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, the Netherlands for their valuable comments. All remaining errors are ours.

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Appendix

Appendix

See Table 7.

Table 7 Descriptive statistics of key independent variables

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Song, Y., Gao, J. Does Telework Stress Employees Out? A Study on Working at Home and Subjective Well-Being for Wage/Salary Workers. J Happiness Stud 21, 2649–2668 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-019-00196-6

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Keywords

  • Working at home
  • Telework
  • Subjective well-being
  • Happiness
  • Time use

JEL Classification

  • J22
  • J28
  • D1