Setting Your Own Schedule Actually Makes You Work More

Telework can be both a blessing and a curse.

Ah, the freedom of flexible work. Pick your own start and end times, and whether and how much you work at the office. It sounds pretty great in comparison to a regimented shift, or clocking in and out every day. It also indicates a level of trust by an employer.

Shift work is obviously necessary in some settings, notably retail and service jobs. But a growing number of companies leave things up to their employees.

But employers are getting plenty out of the arrangements. People that have full and unrecorded control over their schedules work the equivalent of nearly a full weekday beyond what’s in their contracts and in comparison to those who have fixed schedules, according to a large German data set that’s the subject of a new working paper (PDF) on the effects of scheduling freedom.

Here’s the average amount workers put in over what they’re contracted for on a weekly basis in Germany, based on data collected from 2003 to 2011

That workers with fixed daily hours don’t work much beyond their contract hours shouldn’t be surprising. Firms likely set those hours for a reason (to avoid overtime, for example).

For those with flexible hours, a pretty large amount of the extra work can be explained by a number of factors. Things like schooling, gender, and health have an effect, as does how long someone’s been at a job, their seniority, job satisfaction, perceived job security, and pay level. About 1.8 hours of the extra work come down to those elements.

But simply having freedom over hours plays a big part.

The authors had a few theories about why that’s the case. First, reciprocity, that workers may want to pay back employer’s trust and for the positive aspects of setting their own schedule.

The second is an intrinsic motivation found in some employees. It’s not just a desire to get a paycheck, but to excel or to pursue a longer term goal. Some people just enjoy what they do.

And finally, that the absence of formal monitoring might mean there’s some sort of proxy, that hours and effort are noted by managers informally and feed into pay and promotion over the long run. In that case, employees motivated by money and reward will work harder.

Intrinsic motivation turns out to have the biggest effect. Self motivated employees work 75 minutes more than people who don’t exhibit that trait. Reciprocity doesn’t seem to have much of an effect, and adding performance reviews (a mechanism for informal monitoring to affect pay) doesn’t boost effort much either.

There are some consequences to these arrangements. The rapid rise of flexible work could further extend the already long work week . It can also leads to cultures where people are expected to be “always on.” Ultimately, flexibility can make it difficult to set boundaries.

( Image via VeryUlissa / )