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The Real Reason Telecommuters Are Happier

A new study shows that employees who telecommute regularly are less stressed, and have higher job satisfaction, than those who go to the office every day. But the reasons behind telecommuters' relative calm may surprise you. Turns out getting a break from our colleagues, even if you claim to like them, is a very good thing.

A lot of the research and advice about telecommuting concentrates on how to make those who work from home feel more 'connected' to the office. The fear-often shared by telecommuters themselves-is that those who work from home will be passed over for promotions, or miss important information, because they're not putting in the requisite 'face time.' But this study suggests that getting a break from all that information, and all that politicking, is one of the things that makes life easier for telecommuters.

Avoiding pesky colleagues
Kathryn L. Fonner, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Michael E. Roloff, at Northwestern University, queried approximately 200 workers about their stress levels, job satisfaction, and whether or not they believed they had achieved any sort of work-life balance. About half the respondents telecommuted at least three days a week, while the others were office-based. Here's what they found:

  • Telecommuters are less aware of office politics-and that seems to be healthy. In the study, telecommuters were less likely agree with statements such as "Favoritism rather than merit determines who gets ahead here," and "Good ideas are desired even when it means disagreeing with superiors." Of course, it is remotely possible that companies that allow telecommuting actually have cultures that are more open, honest, and merit-based than others, but given the wide range of companies whose employees work from home, the researchers think that's unlikely.
  • Telecommuters are less stressed by meetings and interruptions. As much as telecommuters may encourage their office-based employees to 'call any time,' it appears that their colleagues are reluctant to do so. The authors didn't say whether or not that reluctance would eventually impact telecommuters' advancement within the organization. In the short term, though, being a little bit isolated appears to be a boon to telecommuters, relieving them of significant stress.
  • Telecommuting is good for work-life balance, which is good for employers. Those who worked from home reported a better work-life balance than those who commuted every day. A good work-life balance is associated with increased job satisfaction, less job stress, and a lower likelihood of switching jobs.
More happiness, fewer promotions?
The big question for many telecommuters, of course, is whether or not working from home will eventually hurt their career. It's worth noting, then, that the telecommuters in the survey were, on average, older than the office-based employees (43 years old versus 35 years old), and more likely to have families. They also had been with their companies longer: an average of ten years compared to five for the folks who worked in the office.

The researchers say they were able to ensure that five factors, at least, did not affect the results: age, job tenure, organizational tenure, marital status, and whether or not the worker had children.

Do you telecommute? Would you, if your company supported it? And do you think doing so would hurt your career?


Image courtesy of flickr user Giorgio Montersino
Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor, and editorial consultant. Follow her on twitter at
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