BY: Adrian Smith
You’d think working from home would lighten up the hours and stress that usually comes from the office—or at least make workers feel comfortable enough that it seems this way, but researchers are finding that working from home may be having the opposite effect.
‘The flexibility stigma’ is a term researchers have coined to describe people who work from home but feel they need to put in extra hours, pushing themselves beyond the standard 40-hour work week in order to validate their lenient schedules, passion and dedication to their work.
Because of the way technology has progressed over the last couple of decades, fewer people need to physically be in the workplace to get their work completed. Studies have shown that between 1997 and 2010, the number of Americans who worked from home at least once a week (‘flexible workers’) went up by 4.2 million.
Joan C. Williams, sociologist and director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College, believes this attitude stems from ‘the norm of work devotion.’ Those who stay home make their work the absolute centre of their lives because they deal with an identity-threat situation. They feel the need to prove this is the correct way to be a professional today. They want to set the standard for flexible working by putting pressure on themselves to lead by example. “It’s equal opportunity misery,” Williams adds.
Williams actually believes correcting this way of thinking is a lost cause. She’s been working closely on the stigma for 25 years and sees it as a matter of setting boundaries between work and home through social norms. She thinks flexible workers feel they have to validate being home. She notes that women with children may feel this stigma most often, but that in truth, anyone who deviates from the traditional or ideal worker norm will feel a need to actively prove their dedication to their jobs with something other than their physical presence in the office. But isn’t the quality and timeliness of one’s work enough?
I mean, I get it—adding extra hours to my day is something I often catch myself doing when writing from home. The second I take too long a break or catch myself feeling too relaxed, I immediately feel I’m being irresponsible or that I’m taking the day off. But maybe it’s a matter of shifting that focus from it being a matter of validating your work ethic to remembering why we work from home in the first place.
It’s about completing the work more comfortably instead of rigidly, and in an environment that’s most conducive to your working habits. Setting a standard for flexible working isn’t something you prove by ramping up hours. It’s about using the luxury you’ve been afforded to perform your job at ease. No one sees you put in extra hours at home, and that’s not to say you shouldn’t, if you’re able and willing to. If putting in more hours is how you prove you’re a dedicated professional, why not stay at the office?