The COVID-19 pandemic forever changed the way we work. Now, more and more employees are taking advantage of work-from-home opportunities, and more and more organizations are moving to remote operations to cut down on overhead costs. While there are a multitude of benefits to remote working opportunities, there are some unique challenges as well – namely, the blurred lines between work and family. One such blurred boundary involves families interrupting employees during work hours. Researchers (Perry et al., 2023) investigated whether different responses to interruptions changed employee satisfaction and engagement.
THE RESEARCH STUDY
In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the researchers surveyed 391 couples – at least one of whom was a remote worker. Over three points in time, the researchers measured several factors, including (1) the number of interruptions from family members, (2) the type of response to the interruption, such as feeling motivated and energetic versus feeling withdrawn and depleted, (3) how many breaks the workers took, (4) how satisfied they were with their work arrangement, (5) how engaged they were with their work, and (6) how much their spouse was satisfied with the work arrangement.
The researchers found that overall, employees felt withdrawn and depleted when returning to their work after an interruption from a family member. This led to lower satisfaction with the work arrangement and lower engagement with the work. This also led to the spouse feeling less satisfied with the work arrangement and more overwhelmed. However, employees who took breaks to engage in self-care or family time reacted better to interruptions, leading to more satisfaction and engagement.
Remote work is here to stay. While it may not fit every situation, there are many employees and organizations who prefer this arrangement. Organizations offering remote work options should do the following:
- Encourage and help employees to find ways to minimize interruptions. Overall, interruptions can cause stress and frustration, whether at home or in the office. Organizations may want to encourage employees to set up a semi-isolated working area in their home where interruptions can be minimized, or provide employees with resources to help, such as headphones, a desk, flex hours, etc.
- Provide resources that will help employees develop healthy coping strategies to deal with the stress of interruptions. This can help employees respond effectively to interruption-related stress and stay engaged with their work.
- Encourage the use of breaks. Leaders should communicate with their employees about the benefits of small breaks throughout the day and encourage them to disconnect from work during these breaks.
Perry, S. J., Carlson, D. S., Kacmar, K. M., Wan, M. & Thompson, M. J. (2023). Interruptions in remote work: A resource-based model of work and family stress. Journal of Business and Psychology, 38, 1023-1041.
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