Want more control over work? It cuts both ways

In today’s work world, we’re all cheered if we have control of our schedule, a measure of autonomy, and challenging work. Those are three prized aspects of a job.

But you may want to rethink that premise, or at least accept that they are not unalloyed joys. University of Toronto sociologist Scott Schieman and McMaster University’s Paul Glavin have been studying the phenomenon of work contact outside of regular work hours. Other studies have shown, as we would expect, that the frequency of work contact outside normal hours is related to work-family conflict, leading to psychological stress.

To their surprise, Professors Schieman and Glavin found that the more you have control of your schedule, the more autonomy you have at work, and the more challenging your work then the more likely it is you will be subjected to contact about work outside regular work hours, presumably with a negative effect on your family life.

“There is a puzzle here: Schedule control, autonomy, and challenging work are all seen as positive but are related to higher levels of a potential stressor,” Prof. Schieman says.

The study, funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research, allowed them to interview close to 6,000 people about various aspects of work, a group they hope to continue to follow over time if funding is secured. In this segment, the researchers looked at the frequency that workers send and receive work-related communications outside of regular working hours. Such work contact is important because it’s a sign of how the pace and scale of work can turn your job into what has been dubbed “a needy institution.”

Your schedule control is a form of flexibility . . .

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Make sure your employer knows where you draw the line

When Steve was offered the role of CEO of an American company, he faced a dilemma. The job was enticing, but it meant relocating, and he wasn’t keen on moving, having children in school and many friends in the city where he lived. So he opted for what most of us avoid in such situations: He bargained. He told the board he would only accept the post if he could avoid relocating.

Of course, after the board agreed, he still knew that meant commuting every week to head office and being away from home most of the week. But he set three boundaries on the sacrifices the position was requiring of him. . .

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