Friday, January 8, 2016

The societal downside of flexible work schedules

As I discovered in a study that I published with my colleague Chaeyoon Lim in the journal Sociological Science, it’s not just that we have a shortage of free time; it’s also that our free time, in order to be satisfying, often must align with that of our friends and loved ones. We face a problem, in other words, of coordination. Work-life balance is not something that you can solve on your own.

Our study, which drew on data from more than 500,000 respondents to the Gallup Daily Poll, examined the day-to-day fluctuations and patterns in people’s emotions, week after week. ...

As measured by things such as anxiety, stress, laughter and enjoyment, our well-being is lowest Monday through Thursday. The workweek is a slog. Well-being edges up on Friday, and really peaks on Saturday and Sunday. We are, in a real sense, living for the weekend.

The surprising finding was that this is also true of unemployed people. ...

Free time is also a network good. The weekend derives much of its importance from the fact that so many people are off work together. ...

This conclusion points to a key feature of the work-life problem: You cannot get more “weekend” simply by taking an extra day off work yourself. If we were to take more time off as individuals, we would be likely to spend that time, as the jobless do, waiting for other people to finish work. ...

Over the past few years, many workplaces have looked for ways to create more flexibility in individual work schedules. There is no question that doing so has many benefits. But my research suggests that a disadvantage of these efforts is that they may lead us even further from a weekend-like system of coordinated social time.
--Cristobal Young, NYT, on the value of blue laws and common Sabbaths