Ep 216: Working Remotely – Psychological Advantages and Disadvantages

The idea of working from home sounds great – but be aware of the downside. In this episode of The Psych Files I talk about what factors influence your job satisfaction and motivation when you work from home. I also discuss the interesting concept of “emotional labor” – what is it like when you know your boss is watching you and judging whether you are “acting happy” to customers? What’s the cost to you of acting in a way that is contrary to how you actually feel?

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The Psychological Costs and Benefits of Working Remotely

Advantages

  • Can work in your pajamas (see Disadvantages). Decreased cost of work clothes
  • Decreased cost of travel, commuting time and gas
  • Increased flexibility (can easily pick up the kids)
  • Can take a break any time you want (kind of)
  • Can get a sandwich (potential for decreased cost of lunch)
  • Can play with your car or dog
  • Can take naps – and research shows that a short 20 minute or so nap solidifies memories and makes you more productive (nap-taking at a typical workplace usually violates work norms

Disadvantages

  • You can work in your pajamas
  • Fewer boundaries between personal and work life
  • You could easily work many more hours because you could start earlier in the day
  • Cost: you need a computer, cell phone, internet access, need for an office (who pays for this?)

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Impact on Job Satisfaction and Motivation

Equity Theory and Social Comparison: problems arise when we try to compare ourselves to other workers: it’s no longer easy to see what your co-workers are doing.  It’s not easy for your boss either.

  • we can’t see when they come in to work, and we can’t see when they leave
  • can’t see what they’re doing as we used to when we passed by a co-workers office
  • can’t see how many breaks our co-workers are taking

 
It is common, when we make comparisons to our co-workers, for us to underestimate how hard they work and overestimate how hard we work. The chances for perceptions of inequity increase, and along with it job dissatisfaction.

Managers of remote workers need to make an extra effort to make sure not only that work is distributed fairly, but also that their employees’ perceptions of their co-workers are accurate.

“Emotional Labor”, or Surface Acting

The High Cost of Acting Happy

From Annie Murphy-Paul:

Surface acting is when front line service employees, the ones who interact directly with customers, have to appear cheerful and happy even when they’re not feeling it.This kind of faking is hard work—sociologists call it “emotional labor”—and researchshows that it’s often experienced as stressful. It’s psychologically and even physically draining; it can lead to lowered motivation and engagement with work, and ultimately to job burnout.

…let me suggest that companies take another tack. Train workers well, so that they satisfy their customers with good service. Offer them congenial working conditions, so that they’re glad to be at work. Allow them more personal control over how they do their jobs (research shows this can buffer the stress imposed by surface acting). And provide them with opportunities to develop genuinely warm relationships with managers, coworkers, and customers—so that employees have something real to smile about…

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Comments

  1. Remote workers are very common nowadays. But employers who hire this type of workers must exert extra effort to monitor that their employees still work productively and the outputs still have the quality.

  2. I go to work everyday and then proceed to work from home, far away lands and planets as I drift off fighting sleep. Naps would be most welcomed!
    Reminded me of online classes. I used to eat dinner.
    I think some open forum conference chats sound a ding or buzzer if you get a message addressed to you. I guess if you've got mad skills you could script something that dings/buzzes if "Mike" or "Michael" shows up in the chat forum. Could always claim lost connection if you fail to respond so close your eyes and nap!
    Does wage disparity contribute to disgruntled employees? The movie Kafka (1991) claims he didn't advance because he didn't attend social functions or something. What does that have to do with job performance and his productivity?

  3. I work in IT and all the engineers in my team are remote/mobile workers. We either work from home or at customer sites for our projects. Our team only gathers together as a group for team meetings or organisation events and even in those events, not everyone will show up. I don't know everyone in my team and sometimes don't even know their names or faces because I never see or heard them before. Mostly of the time, we don't even know what we are all working on. The team dynamic is one thing that my manager always worry about because although we are in this "team", there's not much relationship or team bonding between the "team members" because you only get to know them if you ever worked with them in the same project. Everyone is somehow isolated in a way and I do feel lonely sometimes. Besides sending emails and the occasional phone calls, I could be by myself at home working without any social interaction or speaking one work all day. This can be depressing when projects are not going well and can't just turn to the person sitting next to you and rant about it (like you do in the office). Although our manager said we can call him to talk about anything but I guess that will be different.

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