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Working at home makes for happy employees, BYU study says

PROVO — The quickest way to get happier, more productive employees may be to send them home, according to a new BYU study.

Employees who work flexible hours from home at least once a week experience less burnout and can work longer with less work-life conflict than traditional 8-to-5 office dwellers, said lead study author E. Jeffrey Hill, a professor in the School of Family Life.

"When you have that sense of autonomy … in where or when you're going to work, then the natural outgrowth of that is job satisfaction," Hill said. "When you add flex time to flex place, the benefits are dramatic."

Of the more than 24,000 IBM employees Hill studied, those on a set office schedule reached burnout at 38 hours, while telecommuters with a flexible schedule went nearly 57 hours before reaching work-life conflict.

Hill can personally attest to results like these, having been one of the first telecommuters at IBM in the early '90s.

A morning person, Hill would roll out of bed at 5 a.m. and crank out two productive hours before his kids woke up. Then he'd spend time with them, take them to school and even go jogging before he'd clock in again at 9, fresh and ready to go.

Hill came to BYU 11 years ago but has followed up with his research at IBM regarding how to make it a more family-friendly company. The study is based on IBM's 2007 global employee survey and will be published in the June issue of the Journal of Family Psychology, with co-authors Jenet Erickson and Erin Holmes, both BYU professors; and Maria Ferris, a retired IBM researcher.

"The evidence is clear that IBM has more productive employees and spends less on real estate, so it's a win-win," Hill said. "In a down economy where you don't have money to invest in infrastructure, (telecommuting) is very valuable."

That's not news to Staci Boswell, an IT analyst for ARUP Laboratories. She says she gets much more done at home without the distractions and meetings at the office.

Besides, working from home twice a week means less time spent in a two-hour commute from Stansbury Park to downtown Salt Lake City and more time at home with her 10-month-old daughter.

"I love telecommuting, and I think more companies should offer it," she said. "It provides a lot of cost savings and makes for happier, less-stressed employees."

Companies that offer telecommuting also find they need more precise goals and evaluation processes, Hill said, since they have to shift from a face-time culture to a results-oriented culture.

"The underlying trait is that there's trust," Hill said. "When there's trust, people perform better. They give more of themselves to the job, and they're more successful."