Monday, July 09, 2012

Telecommuting: No Utopia

Be careful what you wish for. Telecommuting was once heralded as a way to reduce energy consumption, traffic congestion, and work-family conflict. Dream on. According to an analysis published in the Monthly Labor Review, telecommuting is instead being used by harried workers and demanding employers to cram additional hours of labor into an already full workweek.

About one in four employed Americans report working at least some hours at home each week, according to sociologists Mary C. Noonan and Jennifer L. Glass in their study "The Hard Truth about Telecommuting." Rather than being a benefit to workers, they write, "telecommuting appears to have become instrumental in the general expansion of work hours, facilitating workers' needs for additional work time beyond the standard workweek and/or the ability of employers to increase or intensify work demands among their salaried employees."

In their study, the authors examine whether workers use telecommuting as a substitute for office hours or on top of their 40-hour work week. They find that one-half to two-thirds of the hours workers spend telecommuting is on top of a full workweek--in short, overtime. Telecommuting is being used by workers to relocate overtime hours from the office to the home. "The ability of employees to work at home may actually allow employers to raise expectations for work availability during evenings and weekends and foster longer workdays and workweeks," they conclude.

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