A study released by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre (BCEC) has found that working from home benefits businesses, employees and other members of the family.
Associate Professor Mike Dockery, Principal Lead Research Fellow at BCEC, examined how employees’ working patterns affected satisfaction with relationships within the family and with the division of household responsibilities.
“By being able to match other family members’ survey responses to employees’ work patterns, the researchers were able to address important questions about the effect of working from home,” Associate Professor Dockery said.
“We’ve known that employees generally value the flexibility of being able to do some of their work from home, however working from home is also associated with long working hours. This has the dual potential to either help families balance work and family, or to exacerbate work and family conflict.
“We can now confidently say that, on balance, working from home helps family functioning.”
The researchers looked at how satisfied employees’ partners were with their relationship; with the employee’s relationship with their children; and with how fairly household tasks and childcare responsibilities were divided between the couple.
The research found that based on these family functioning indicators, working from home saw few disruptions to families. Positive effects were most apparent in relation to parenting roles as partners were more satisfied with the employee’s relationship with their children, and with how childcare responsibilities were shared between the couple.
The statistical modelling revealed a number of other interesting insights about family functioning in Australia:
- Both women and men’s level of satisfaction with their relationship with their partner falls off with each year they have been together, and only levels out after being together for around 25 years. Satisfaction with how housework is shared between the couple also falls off with the duration of the relationship.
- Men and women are more satisfied with their relationships when they are legally married rather than living in a de facto relationship. They are also more satisfied with their current relationship if they have themselves been previously married.
- The presence of children, and particularly pre-school aged children, has a large negative effect. Men and women are less satisfied with their relationship when there are children living at home. Women in particular feel that they shoulder a disproportionate share of household tasks and childcare responsibilities when the couple has children living at home.
- Men and women are most satisfied with their relationships when their partner works and they do not work at all. The researchers expressed surprise that this finding also held for men, given traditional views of the male role as the ‘breadwinner’ within the family. When it comes to how fairly housework is shared, however, people are most happy when they work full-time and their partner works part-time. These findings offer support for the view that growth in dual-earner families has contributed to a rising trend in work-family conflict.
- Prosperity and your partner being in good health are conducive to marital harmony.
- Children aged 15-21 are most satisfied with their relationship with their parents when those parents have more limited engagement in the labour market, but whether their parents worked from home or not, had no bearing on children’s perceptions of family functioning.
The one negative finding relating to home work was that women become less satisfied with the division of household tasks when their male employee partner works a substantial number of hours in the home. It seems when men work longer hours at home, they do not increase their contribution to the housework by as much as their partner thinks they should.
The authors caution that just because there are positive outcomes for those who currently work from home, this should not be taken to mean that working from home will be good for all families.
“Each family is different when it comes to finding the balance between work and family that works best for them. This may explain why more Australians are not taking up the option to work from home,” Associate Professor Dockery said.
“Despite expectations of an emerging telecommuting revolution, in fact the proportion of employees working from home in Australia has been stagnant at around 17 per cent for over a decade.”
The study examined data from the families of over 10,000 employees in Australia between 2001 and 2013 and the full paper can be downloaded from the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre website here.