Career Center Blog

November 21, 2009

More ammo for employees hoping to telecommute


A few of you have wisely asked for scientific proof you can use to help make a business case for working a more flexible schedule or telecommuting to your job. A new study by a team of industrial organizational psychologists offers just that.

According the study, employees with managers who champion a flexible workplace are more satisfied with their jobs and in better physical health. What's more, those employees have less turnover than staff whose managers aren't as supportive of flexible work.

For the four-year study, researchers evaluated how supportive managers in 12 midwestern grocery stores were of their employees' lives outside work, from family responsibilities to personal pursuits. As part of the study, half the managers at the stores were trained to "work with employees to reduce scheduling conflicts between work and family obligations."

Not surprisingly, researchers found "a definite link between supportive management and employee well-being."

"You can support someone to do their job," said Ellen Ernst Kossek, who teaches HR management and organizational behavior at Michigan State University, and is co-author of the study with Leslie Hammer, director of the Occupational Health Psychology program at Portland State University. "But it is also important for managers to support work and family integration, and to support all the other aspects of employees' lives outside the workplace."

However, a flexible schedule isn't the only way to an employee's heart. There's also the matter of emotional support, which the researchers found can greatly boost an employee's happiness on the job.

For this reason, the researchers trained store managers to be emotionally supportive of their employees and then noted the subsequent morale boost. For example, supervisors were taught to acknowledge the after-hours responsibilities and pursuits of their staff (family, school, and the like) and to understand the conflicts that can occur between their employees' work lives and personal lives.

"Emotional support is important," Kossek said. "In some of the stores we studied, managers weren't even saying 'hello' to their employees."

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide." E-mail Michelle at

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Where is this research available? Was it published in a journal?

Good question, Karen. The researchers presented their findings October 13 in Washington, DC, at a congressional briefing titled “Workplace Practice, Health and Well-Being: Initial Research Findings from the Work, Family & Health Network.” Their findings were also published in the Harvard Business Review and Journal of Management. You can see the full press release here:

Many companies need to start wising up and getting out of the 9-5 mindset and more on employee productivity. Long commutes can easily be turned into productive work time by allowing employees to telecommute. More work done, and happier employees is a win/win for everyone.

I'm an RN in a hospital how is this feasible?

Linda, obviously not all jobs can be done at home. Teachers and nurses, for example, though depending on the job and employer, some paperwork can be done from home.

I have been a "remote" employee for two years now, and I would hate to go back to the 9-5. The one thing I've discovered, they get more work out of me than if I were sitting in a cubicle. I do miss some of the socialization, and, on occasion, I still get drawn into office politics (which I avoid as much as possible); but, overall it's great.

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Former contributors

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


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