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


  • 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


  • 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?)

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…

Ep 194: What Do I/0 Psychologists Really Do?

What do I/0 psychologists do anyway? Are you interested in this subfield of psychology? Well, here are a few things they DON’T do: they don’t do “therapy in the workplace” and they don’t do “motivational speaking“. It’s not what you think. Industrial/Organizational psychology is practiced by professionals who’s goal is to make sure that employees are productive and – and here’s what I’ll focus on in this episode – that job applicants are chosen based upon the skills and personality characteristics that are relevant to the jobs they are applying for. Find out more in this episode of The Psych Files.

Resources on Industrial/Organizational Psychology

  • It’s essential to understand the concept of test reliability
  • Another foundational concept that I/O psychologists – indeed all psychologists – must learn is test validity
  • Of course, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of correlations is vital to the I/O psychologists and in this example I use tricky topic of what creates job satisfaction.

Ep 193: Mindfulness Benefits on the GRE and at Work

There is a lot of talk about mindfulness among psychologists today. Find out what mindfulness is and how it differs from meditation in this episode of The Psych Files. What might you use mindfulness for? Well, in addition to what you might expect – reducing stress – mindfulness training is also being used to improve job satisfaction and productivity. Interested in increasing your score on the GRE? Being more mindful might also help out there as well.

The present study demonstrates that a 2-week mindfulness training program can elicit increased WMC (working memory capacity) and superior reading comprehension on the GRE. The practice of mindfulness…entailed promoting a persistent effort to maintain focus on a single aspect of experience, particularly sensations of breathing, despite the frequent interruptions of unrelated perceptions or personal concerns – Mrazek, et. al

Resources on Mindfulness

Ep 188: Psychologists Are Keeping You From Getting the Flu

Didn’t get the flu this past winter? Thank a psychologist. What? Well, it could be that a psychologist was involved in helping health care professionals to do what they know they need to do (but sometimes don’t): wash their hands. The issue here is persuasion and motivation: how to we get people to do something – and keep doing it? Health care workers like doctors and nurses can fall prey to the availability heuristic: they can easily remember times when they didn’t wash their hands and they didn’t get sick so they might develop an “illusion of invulnerability“. How do psychologists get involved to solve this problem? Listen to this episode and find out.

Wash Your Hands to Avoid Illness

Resources for this Episode

…messages aimed at health care professionals should be most effective when they emphasize how hand-hygiene practices can protect patients’ health rather than personal health – Grant and Hofman

Episode 142: How To Make Jobs More Satisfying and Motivating

Do you have a dull job? Wonder how it can be made more motivating? That’s the challenge – how can we make jobs that are typically not much fun (like an assembly line job) more interesting to do? There is a lot of research on this important topic (check out The Five Drivers of Happiness at Work from the Wall Street Journal).

And Dan Pink wrote a good deal about this in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (you can hear him talk about work motivation in this interview called Dan Pink on the Modus Operandi of Motivation). This is one of the challenges facing I/O psychologists and in this episode I discuss the Job Characteristics theory by Hackman and Oldham and apply it to assembly line jobs in China where your iPhone is made and where a record number of suicides have occurred over the past few years. Can we use job redesign to make such jobs more tolerable?

1 Million Workers. 90 Million iPhones. 17 Suicides. Who’s to Blame?

5 Characteristics of Jobs that Affect Motivation

  • Significance: do the workers feel that the work they do every day is important in the grander scheme of things? To some workers it’s clear that their daily work is important (say, nurses), while others (say, assembly line workers who put together cell phone components) may not feel that their work is important. However, you can help cell phone assembly line workers get a connection to the significance of their work by reminding them of how important cell phones are to the global connections they enable between people and the role cell phones play (through photos and messaging) in changing the world. Here’s an article on the important role that leaders play in helping their employees find meaning in their work.
  • Identity: as opposed to putting one tiny piece onto something that other people put tiny pieces onto, it’s important for workers to be able to identify a whole task that they themselves created. Is there a way to redesign a job so that workers can put their names on something and say with pride, “I created that”?

  • Variety: nothing kills motivation faster than monotony. How can you increase the variety of things that workers do? How can you let them tap into their skills or build new skills so that work can include some variety from day to day?
  • Feedback: employees need to know how well they’re doing their jobs. This helps with imparting a sense of pride as well. Feedback can come from a car that rolls off the assembly line and works perfectly (low defects) or it can come from a boss who tells the worker how well he/she is doing.
  • Autonomy: many employees benefit from having some say in how things are done. What aspects of the job can be supervised or redesigned based on input from employees? What decisions can they make on their own?