Out of Office: New Baylor Management Study Examines Relationship Between Stress and Remote Work

Oct 11, 2018

4 min

Sara Perry, Ph.D.Emily Hunter, Ph.D.

Researchers say people with high emotional stability and autonomy are best suited for remote-work opportunities


Many U.S. employees believe working from home – or at least away from the office – can bring freedom and stress-free job satisfaction. A new Baylor University study says, “Not so fast.”


The study, published recently in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, examines the impact of remote work on employee well-being and offers several strategies to help managers provide remote-work opportunities that are valuable to the employee and the company.


“Any organization, regardless of the extent to which people work remotely, needs to consider well-being of their employees as they implement more flexible working practices,” the researchers wrote.


A total of 403 working adults were surveyed for the two studies that made up the research, said lead author Sara Perry, Ph.D., assistant professor of management in Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business. The research team measured each employee’s autonomy (the level of a worker’s independence), strain (defined in this study as exhaustion, disengagement and dissatisfaction) and emotional stability.


Emotional stability, Perry explained, “captures how even keeled someone is or, on the opposite end, how malleable their emotions are. An example would be if something stressful happens at work, a person who is high on emotional stability would take it in stride, remain positive and figure out how to address it. A person low on emotional stability might get frustrated and discouraged, expending energy with those emotions instead of on the issue at hand.”


The research found that:


• Autonomy is critical to protecting remote employees’ well-being and helping them avoid strain.


• Employees reporting high levels of autonomy and emotional stability appear to be the most able to thrive in remote-work positions.


• Employees reporting high levels of job autonomy with lower levels of emotional stability appear to be more susceptible to strain.


Perry said the study contradicts past research that says autonomy is a universal need that everyone possesses. Per this research, those who are lower in emotional stability may not need or want as much autonomy in their work.

“This lower need for autonomy may explain why less emotionally stable employees don’t do as well when working remotely, even when they have autonomy,” researchers wrote.


In addition to their findings, the researchers offered several recommendations for managers who design or oversee remote-work arrangements.

The research team advised managers to consider their employees’ behavior when deciding who will work remotely.


“I would suggest managers look at employee behaviors, rather than for personality traits, per se,” Perry said. “For example, if someone does not handle stress well in the office, they are not likely to handle it well at home either. If someone gets overwhelmed easily, or reacts in big ways to requests or issues in the office, they are likely less well positioned to work remotely and handle that responsibility and stress.”


Based on this study, individuals with high emotional stability and high levels of autonomy are better suited for remote work, but such candidates might not always be available.


“If less emotionally stable individuals must work remotely, managers should take care to provide more resources, other than autonomy, including support to help foster strong relationships with coworkers and avoid strain,” they wrote.

Managers might also consider providing proper training and equipment for remote work, including proper separation of work and family spaces, clear procedural and performance expectations and regular contact (virtual or face-to-face) with coworkers and managers.


ABOUT THE STUDY

Stress in Remote Work: Two Studies Testing The Demand-Control-Person Model,” published in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, is authored by Sara Perry, Ph.D., assistant professor of management, Hankamer School of Business, Baylor University, Emily Hunter, Ph.D., associate professor of management, Hankamer School of Business, Baylor Univeersity, and Cristina Rubino, professor of management, David Nazarian College of Business and Economics, California State University Northridge.


ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.


ABOUT HANKAMER SCHOOL OF BUSINESS

Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business provides a rigorous academic experience, consisting of classroom and hands-on learning, guided by Christian commitment and a global perspective. Recognized nationally for several programs, including Entrepreneurship and Accounting, the school offers 24 undergraduate and 13 graduate areas of study. Visit www.baylor.edu/business and follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Baylor_Business.


Connect with:
Sara Perry, Ph.D.

Sara Perry, Ph.D.

Associate Professor - Management

Dr. Perry researches management-related topics, including remote work, negotiation, employee stress and health, innovation and leadership.

Work From HomeWFHGreat ResignationIndustrial and Organizational PsychologyManagement
Emily Hunter, Ph.D.

Emily Hunter, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Management, Hankamer School of Business

Negotiation and conflict management expert, revolutionizing the fundamentals of workplace psychology

Negotiation and conflict managementWork-Family IssuesStressWork-family conflict and balanceWorkplace Deviance

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Q: What successes or bright spots have you seen within your campus experience that offer encouragement to how the Baylor Family has handled the crisis throughout the semester? I am regularly amazed by the Baylor students, faculty and staff, the ways we have navigated the crisis together this semester, and I am especially grateful for President Livingstone’s and Provost Brickhouse’s leadership since March. This semester, some bright spots have included Dr. Deborah Birx’s reflections on Baylor’s efforts to keep everyone safe from COVID-19, the Fall Faculty meeting and Dr. Peter Hotez’s appreciation of how Baylor leaders have kept the Baylor and Waco community safe and following along when Baylor students take over Baylor’s Instagram account (like Brandon Nottingham’s takeover on World Mental Health Day!). As the Garland School of Social Work’s associate dean for research and faculty development, I have also loved learning about the ways so many Baylor faculty are offering their unique research expertise and wisdom to serve others through this difficult time, such as Dr. Emily Smith’s “Friendly Neighbor Epidemiologist” Facebook page to explain COVID-19 information. I’ve also been reminded of what a gift it is to be a part of the Garland School of Social Work (GSSW) and this community of faculty, staff and students. The resilience, creativity, love for serving others, dedication to the social work profession and care for our students is so apparent within the GSSW. I have especially seen how my faculty and staff colleagues have adapted courses and assignments, creatively considered students’ needs and juggled their research responsibilities while extending grace to themselves and one another as we navigate this season together as a school to the best of our ability. Similarly, seeing our students’ resilience, flexibility, support of one another, commitment to the profession and heart for the clients and communities they serve is truly inspiring. Finally, Dean Jon Singletary’s servant-leader heart for the GSSW and the ways he has supported our school through so much transition over the last five years has been a gift. One example of this includes the two hours of weekly well-being time he extends for all GSSW staff and faculty to use in support of our spiritual and mental health care. Q: What gives you hope for the spring semester and beyond as students continue through their academic endeavors? Truthfully, our students’ presence and their enthusiasm over the fields of study they are dedicating their lives to gives me hope. As a professor, there is nothing like watching a student become fully alive in the work they are passionate about and feel as though they were made to do. Our students’ willingness to fully participate in the transformational education that Baylor offers, especially in this difficult season of COVID-19, is an honor to witness as a professor and certainly gives me hope. Further, seeing the ways our students are empathically caring for their neighbor by following Baylor’s safety guidelines, growing in their faith, checking in on one another, understanding faculty and staff are doing their very best and continuing to demonstrate their determination to learn and grow is an inspiration. My hope and prayer for our students as well as our staff and faculty colleagues as we move through the remainder of the fall semester and into the spring is that they rest as they need to and prioritize taking good care of their mental and spiritual health. 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