Effect Measure

Work and home

An interesting sounding paper just appeared in the December 2009 issue of the journal American Sociological Review but we don’t have time to read it. So I’ll just tell you what the press release says:

As many as 50 per cent of people bring their work home with them regularly, according to new research out of the University of Toronto that describes the stress associated with work-life balance and the factors that predict it.

Researchers measured the extent to which work was interfering with personal time using data from a national survey of 1,800 American workers. Sociology professor Scott Schieman (UofT) and his coauthors Melissa Milkie (University of Maryland) and PhD student Paul Glavin (UofT) asked participants questions like: “How often does your job interfere with your home or family life?”; “How often does your job interfere with your social or leisure activities?”; and “How often do you think about things going on at work when you are not working?”

Schieman says, “Nearly half of the population reports that these situations occur ‘sometimes’ or ‘frequently,’ which is particularly concerning given that the negative health impacts of an imbalance between work life and private life are well-documented.” (Eurekalert)

I think if you would ask Mrs. R. which half I’m in I think she’d say the “interferes with” half but if you ask me I’d say the “doesn’t interfere with half.” I don’t think I’m able to judge because I don’t have any clear line between work and home. While I consider myself lazy because I pretty much do what I want, Mrs. R. claims I am a workaholic because it seems I am always working on something (of course she considers blogging work related because it’s about public health, while I consider it just something I do). I spend a lot of time on the net (surprise!) and a lot of time reading a huge variety of things, most of which I suppose are work related since I am reading them because they interest me and I always think I can use them for some science or public health related problem (I am what some people call a lateral thinker and others call a dilettante). So our house is littered with scientific books and papers and various works in progress. While I do a lot of things just for enjoyment, there is never a day I don’t do some work. I have worked 7 days a week, 365 days a year for decades. No exceptions.

My son, on the other hand, is a successful academic who has a strict rule: he never brings work home, maintaining a strict line between his home space and his work space. Because he is in great demand and has more work to do than any two people I know, he solves the problem by returning to his office on weekends and evenings and does his work there. That’s not something I could do and I save the travel time, but I pay the price by having no separation between work and home.

I’m not sure which way is better. When I was younger it meant I was around the house a lot and saw the kids grow up. Even now when I am “working,” I can see Mrs. R. five feet away from me, reading her book. On the other hand, work is always with me. I wake at night thinking about it, it’s at the dinner table, throughout the evening.

I’m told they now have medication for this.


  1. #1 Frank Mirer
    January 19, 2010

    “Taking work home” shades into “industrial homework,” regulated under state labor law and FLSA. Remember the storm when an OSHA staffer wrote that such work had to comply with OSHA? A no-brainer for safety and health workers, but a pinata for incipient tea partyers, who won. Think of your computer workstation and ergonomics.

    The border between exempt (from being paid overtime for working more than the 40 hour week) and non-exempt is a battleground, although the professoriat clearly falls into exempt. Interesting reading can be found at http://www.flsa.com/coverage.html.

    Many workers classified as exempt – required by their employer to do extra work for no extra pay – who shouldn’t be, are proud of it.

  2. #2 Jason Dick
    January 19, 2010

    The whole problem of “taking your work home with you” makes it sound like the author thinks that work is necessarily a bad thing: something that you just have to do, something that is always a drain on your psychological wellbeing. I call shenanigans on that.

    I really enjoy my work (cosmology research). There’s no separation between work and home for me. I take my work home because I like to take my work home. Yes, sometimes I’m up late into the wee hours of the night working on something. But that’s because I’ve gotten into something I’m really interested in. The times when I’m working at home because I’m really fighting to make a deadline are so far and few between as to be virtually nonexistent.

    Really, I think it’s vastly more important how much a person enjoys the work that they do rather than how often they take it home.

  3. #3 Tony
    January 19, 2010

    Jason, I’m very happy for you. I also had a job I loved and didn’t mind bringing work home since my compensation covered my need to do so. For many Americans, working at home is simply an unpaid extension of work in the office. As the entry points out, it’s nice to be at home, not so nice to be on the job while there. There are so many abuses of exempt employees, your story (and mine) is truly an exception.

  4. #4 peggy
    January 19, 2010

    Well, how lovely (seriously) for those of you whose work is an enjoyable part of life. For most people, though, it is the selling of their time, and more often than not these days they are doing a job that is stressful, demanding, and now intruding into their private time.

    As for women, who now make up half the work force, they already have another job at home since they still do most of the cooking, cleaning, shopping, and child care.

    Until we have a society where more people have jobs where they garner respect and share in the financial rewards of their labor, we need to have laws to prevent the exploitation of that labor.

  5. #5 MoM
    January 19, 2010

    Interesting about Frank’s observation about Exempt vs Non-exempt workers and overtime. Every year, I have to sign a form that says I won’t work overtime without prior approval, something that is patently absurd for someone in my line of work. I’m certain that at 5 pm on Friday I’m going to interrupt the physician I’m talking to with “Well, Doctor, It’s all very interesting about the outbreak you called in to report, and we really appreciate it, but it is 5 O’clock and I have to go. Could you please call me back after 8 on Monday?” Likewise, I guess I could refuse to take the calls from our 24/7 call center, but I’m not likely to.

    The policy is a joke, and most people ignore it, and could be fired for doing so.

  6. #6 CK
    January 19, 2010

    It’s a good thing the researchers didn’t interview public school teachers. My wife teaches second grade. She works six days a week and puts in two to four hours extra daily. She also buys supplies for the class room and often for individual children. Because she is a morning person and thinks more clearly after a nights sleep, she gets up at three to four a.m. to start her lesson planning for the coming day. We see each other for a couple of hours in the evening before she konks out a seven.

    And no matter which weekend day she goes to the school, there are always several other teachers there. It’s not just my wife toiling away.

    Fortunately, I have enormous respect for her and appreciate how dedicated, smart and capable she is and I know her kids are lucky to have her. We’re both glad she can retire soon. And glad she can substitue teach afterward without the lesson planning, report cards, and the myriad forms, reports, and CYA work campuses have to engage in with administrators and districts.

    She will be able to just teach.

  7. #7 Kaleberg
    January 19, 2010

    Back in 2007 there was a paper Measuring Trends in Leisure: The Allocation of Time over Five Decades by Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics. As the title suggests, it addressed how Americans spend their time. While many people in the literate class have noted an increase in work hours, BLS statistics and other measures show that Americans have been working less and less over the past 50 years. In fact, for most people, the 35 hour work week is the norm, and now that the economy has collapsed it is likely even shorter.

    I did a write up on the paper at http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2007/9/6/381387/-The-New-Leisure-Class and came to the conclusion that most workers are non-exempt, so their work hours have fallen. Each additional hour costs their employers money. In contrast, additional exempt worker hours are free, so exempt workers, who are usually better educated and better paid, have been working longer hours.

    It’s almost a textbook example of economic analysis. Why not feed bread to one’s pigs if bread has zero marginal cost?

  8. #8 pft
    January 20, 2010

    You have to distinguish between work at home for those who work regular hours, say 9-5 or 7-3, and those who must work crazy hours like 8 (AM) -9 (PM) and still do conference calls from home at 6 AM and 11 PM to accomodate those in different time zones (Asia and Europe) and still work at home. Not to mention those who have to spend 70% of their time in airports and travelling, always connected by blackberry of course, and soon to be connected in the last safe haven, a plane at 35,000 ft.

    Of course, when you enjoy your work, working longer or at home is enjoyable. However, if your work has tight deadlines, then you work in fear of missing the deadline and it is not as enjoyable. Academics on tenure and government workers may not be good comps for those employee at wills working in the private sector.

    Anyways, no matter how well paid you think you are today in the private sector, gladly working the marathon, once you slow down a bit, be it age or family responsibilities, it is sayonara, adios, tsai chien, good bye. Unless you drop dead first, and I have seen that, might even have been the cause.

    Slavery met it’s end when capitalists asked “why own a person for life?”, which includes their unproductive years, and the need to feed, house, educate (train), clothe, heat, provide medical treatment for, not to mention running the risk of losing their capital when they expire or runway, or even getting killed and overthrown as the Haitians did to their colonial rulers. Today the worker is just a different kind of slave, a wage slave with debt or a mortgage who lives in fear of losing his health insurance.

    It makes much more business sense to pay for work done on the job, and even get them to take their work home w/o OT out of fear they will be fired and losing benefits, and let them take care of themselves when off work, and then cut your losses when the worker is no longer productive and replace him/her with a younger, newer model. Having surplus labour by exporting jobs abroad to places where wages are less and allowing immigration makes this possible, why do you think our corporate government permits and encourages it.

    In my next life I want to be a dog or a real slave (with a good and rich master who values his capital investment). LOL.

  9. #9 pauls lane
    January 20, 2010

    my guess is there are lots of folks right now who wouldn’t mind a job that may require them to either officially or unofficially do some work at home

  10. #10 Paula
    January 20, 2010

    So true, pauls lane.
    And there are plenty of us who have had at one time or other had to take a non-exempt job that demanded over 8 hours onsite but paid only the 8–object at your own risk.
    My sense is that the categories exempt and non-exempt roughly correspond to the French/European cadres and travailleurs (non-cadre workers); we might do better here if cadres, as there, also had their union(s). Of course, at this point practically no one seems to. My brother and I have argued whether the US Reaction got really going in 1973 or in 1968–or was it before?

  11. #11 g336
    January 23, 2010

    Working at home (telework) takes commuter cars off the road, which is huge in terms of reducing climate impact. Think of all the workers in city office towers who live in suburbs that aren’t served by decent public transport. Their jobs consist of moving information around. Now think of them not having to drive that round-trip every day.

    The question is how to prevent telework being abused as a new form of wageless wage slavery.

    And the answer is, non-exploitation can be designed right into the technology, as long as an employer is willing to play by the rules and not cheat. (The vast majority of employers are honest, but the dishonest ones need to be prosecuted, with prison sentences applied where appropriate.)

    For example, the PBX (office phone system) can keep track of calls transferred to a home landline or cellphone, and present time accounting for the period when a person was answering calls. If a job requires making outgoing calls from home, a separate landline with itemized bill will often do the trick. Otherwise, VOIP (internet-protocol telephony) can give you an extension of the office PBX at home (which should be visually and functionally identical to your office phone), and once again the PBX call accounting system will keep track of your hours automatically, as long as you’re at least occasionally making or receiving office calls during your work hours.

    The office computer network can keep track of VPN usage (virtual private network: from home) to provide additional data about hours worked. Network management tools can show that an employee is actually doing work on their computer, rather than just leaving it on while they goof off. Various instant message or chat functions enable supervisors to check in with employees from time to time.

    When this stuff is done correctly, time is accounted for and paid for, and employees gain the benefits of not having to waste time driving back and forth to an office.

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