As organizations transition out of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees are being given the flexibility to decide whether to work from home or the office on any given day. What leads employees to their decisions? One possible answer is that employees choose their daily work location as a way to cope with stressors they experienced on the previous workday. For example, family distractions at home may lead an employee to choose the office the next day.
New research (Shao et al., 2021) uncovers five main types of stressors that employees are experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and then examines how each of these stressors may impact the next-day decision of whether to work from home or the office.
THE FIVE TYPES OF STRESSORS
- Work-family boundary stressors refer to events in which family demands interfere with work.
- Work coordination stressors refer to events involving inefficiency or difficulty coordinating with others.
- Workload stressors refer to situations in which one has extra, urgent, or unexpected tasks.
- Technology stressors refer to situations involving issues with technology, equipment, or software that are necessary for the job.
- COVID-19 infection-related stressors refer to stressful situations that are specific to the pandemic, such as fear of infection or discomfort dealing with protective measures.
The study found that experiencing more work-family boundary stressors or work coordination stressors on a certain day was associated with a greater likelihood of working in the office the next day. Conversely, experiencing more workload stressors on a certain day was associated with a greater likelihood of working from home the next day.
Further, experiencing more technology stressors on a certain day was associated with a greater likelihood of working from the office the next day, but only when experiencing a low level of COVID-19 infection-related stressors. Additionally, experiencing more workload stressors was associated with a lower likelihood of working from the office the next day, but only when experiencing a high level of COVID-19 infection-related stressors.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
These findings have several practical implications for organizations. For example, the researchers suggest that organizations use the types of stressors uncovered by this study to guide efforts to reduce stress. This will help workers through the COVID-19 pandemic and future difficult times. The researchers also suggest that companies should strive to reduce their employees’ workload stressors and COVID-19-related stressors, as these stressors constrained employees from choosing to work from the office. Working from the office is helpful because it reduces work-family boundary stressors and technology stressors.
Since many organizations plan to continue offering flexible work arrangements even after the pandemic, these findings offer important insights for organizations to consider.
Shao, Y., Fang, Y., Wang, M., Chang, C.-H. (D.), & Wang, L. (2021). Making daily decisions to work from home or to work in the office: The impacts of daily work- and COVID-related stressors on next-day work location. Journal of Applied Psychology, 106(6), 825-838.