This is How Flexible Work Schedules Create More Stress Than Freedom 

Penny ZenkerHealth and Wellness, LEADERSHIP

Young woman in a dress in a bright street cafe with a laptop works remotely on her own flexible work schedules

There is a lot of research outlining the benefits of a flexible work schedule.

Providing jobs with flexible schedules seems to be the modern and practical solution to the regular conflicting demands of the 9-5 system. Flexible work schedules are no longer reserved for freelancers and gig workers. Traditional employers are now offering flexible schedules too and employees are demanding it.

When you think about saying goodbye to the rigid 9-5 working structure, awfully long commutes, expensive lunches, and uncomfortable “business professional” outfits, and swapping it for an ocean view in some exotic city, it’s easy to see why it is fast becoming the most preferred working system. Who doesn’t want that?

A flexible work schedule, even if you have to make an office appearance or two,  will of course enable you to, for instance, take the mornings off to attend to errands, and work when you are most productive. It would also offer the autonomy of creating the ideal work-life balance you want to have. 

But then, there are some downsides to flexible work hours. Understanding these drawbacks will help you create a better working arrangement. 

 

What is a Flexible Work Schedule?

A flexible work schedule means being allowed a level of autonomy to create your own schedule. Instead of the traditional 40 hours nine-to-five work week at the office, you may be allowed to vary the times you begin and end your work day but still be able to clock all 40 hours and finish tasks or projects according to deadlines.

However, even with this flexibility, there still needs structure. You want to avoid context switching which can reduce overall productivity. It’s entirely possible to also have a flexible working arrangement that requires coming into the office now and then versus remote work. Typically, that flexible working arrangement would have three components:

 

  • where and when to work from
  • What to do when you work
  • a work schedule that works best for you 
  • a work day that works best for you.

 

That said, there are no longer special jobs with flexible work hours. Part-time work, fully remote teams, work-from-home jobs, seasonal work, alternative schedule jobs (second or third shifts), and compressed workweeks (working 40 hours over 4 days instead of 5) can all have flexible work arrangements. 

 

Flexible work schedules may seem like a great idea. But it's important to know where to draw the line to reap its benefits and minimize risks Click To Tweet

 

How Jobs with Flexible Schedules Impact Employee Productivity

As said earlier, there are many benefits of flexible work schedules. One of the most notable benefits is that offering that autonomy to employees may drive them to deliver more.

Research conducted at the University of Kent, by a senior lecturer, Heejung Chung, and her colleague Yvonne Lott discovered that when people have more control over their schedules, they are driven to go above expectations.

Caroline Forsey at Hubspot relates this situation to the gift exchange theory. So when you are grateful for that flexible schedule, you see it as a gift and feel obligated to work harder and longer.

  • You can easily adapt a schedule around your family and social life demands
  • You may have more time to indulge in self-care such as getting a gym membership, enrolling in noon cycling, doing yoga, or even getting a massage.
  • You have more time to pursue passions outside of work especially when those passions previously coincided with regular work hours.
  • You can block out your most productive and distraction-free time for work
  • It also means avoiding rush hour, which studies show wastes over 2 and a half full days out of a year. 
  • Flexible working schedules may also make you feel in charge of your work and personal life. 
  • A study by Mckinsey shows that flexible work schedules make it easier to cast your net wide and attract the best candidates possible from all over the globe.
  • A flexible schedule can increase employee morale and productivity which is ultimately a selling point for hiring and retaining top talent
  • Jobs with flexible working hours lead to less turnover, fewer missed days of work, career longevity, and better-engaged employees
  • Employers may also save money on overhead costs as they no longer need a large office.

 

The Drawbacks of Flexible Work Schedules 

Working at a job with flexible work hours may seem like a great idea. But it is critical to be aware of the disadvantages. Considering the risks and downsides of this work arrangement makes it easier to prepare for any eventual obstacles. 

1). Low Morale and Motivation 

When you work from home, there is every possibility that you’ll procrastinate, possibly due to disconnection, isolation, loneliness or distraction. The implication is that we may delay working, creating loads of unfinished tasks which thereafter will require a rush to meet up with deadlines.

Low morale and motivation are the core reasons scientific research suggests that flexible work hours should be in moderation.

Studies further suggest that working during non-standard times like holidays and weekends notably reduces people’s intrinsic motivation because of the perceptions of when it is and isn’t acceptable to work. So seeing your family and friends off work on such occasions might make you feel you no longer have control of your work hours. In contrast motivation and morale are highest when working within normal working hours.

 

2). Disruption of Work-Life Balance

The beauty of going to the office is that hypothetically, it’s easier to remain in the “work zone” and then relax when you get home from work. With a flexible work schedule, it’s a lot harder to define the boundaries between work and life.

For instance, let’s say you’ve been invited to yoga at noon. When you came back emails and meetings left you with no time to finish your work so you’re still scrambling at 6 pm which translates to working into the night.

Or perhaps, you constantly jumping from one work project to the next and have even transformed your bedroom into your second office, making it difficult to switch off. Whatever the case, the blurred lines might lead to work getting piled up or burnout.

 

3) Lack of Structure at Home 

When working remotely, there is little structure.

If you don’t have a separate space to work, that may keep you from focusing on work during the designated work hours you have set or get interrupted by family and other distractions.

Because there’s more freedom to take breaks, you may often find yourself getting very little work done or constantly context switching or trying to multitask. When working from home you need to build discipline and focus as you would if you were working in an office.

That said, depending on your unique circumstances, consider more structure to support your focus to eliminating the risk of dampening your performance as those TV breaks or domestic chores begin creeping into your work hours. 

 

4). Isolation from Colleagues

Working at home means that you will be physically separated from your colleagues. Given its flexibility, you can even resume work by 7 am in your pajamas, without any form of distraction. The negative effect here is that you will lose the vibes and creativity of working with others.

Missing out on the togetherness and the general buzz of teamwork can leave you feeling uninspired and lonely. This can affect your drive to deliver quality work. 

A study published in BMC Public Health revealed that work-at-home employees stand a chance of developing depression. Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, also indicates that 50% of remote employees feel lonelier than before switching to remote work. You never can underestimate how being together as colleagues to celebrate birthdays, and end-of-year social activities can boost your morale at work.

 

5) Difficulties in Arranging Meetings with your Team 

Different schedules come with plenty of complexities. It becomes harder figuring everyone’s schedules. Even so, some of your teammates or employees may not have consistent schedules which further makes it harder to arrange meetings and team gatherings.

It also gets harder if your team works around the globe or if you need to schedule meetings with clients who prefer the regular 9-to-5.

 

6) Compressed Schedules may Lead to Increased Stress and Burnout

When employees have extreme flexibility with working from home, there is a temptation to put off tasks until their deadlines, then they have to work at a marathon pace to meet up deadlines may lead to low-quality work and increased stress. Doing this on a regular basis may lead to burnout symptoms combined with a lack of motivation and loneliness.

As stress and rushing take place, there is an increase in errors and negligence some of which can lead to bigger issues. Such as  employees are more likely to skip the security procedures put in place for preventing cybersecurity risks.

 

7. Extremely Flexible Work Schedule may Destroy the Benefits of In-person Interactions

Allowing employees to have too much flexibility may also impact their mental health and career, especially regarding how they interact. When we limit communications to occasional video calls, you may find it difficult spotting when your teams are struggling with their workload, experiencing stress, or on the verge of burnout. Facetime remains one of the best ways to offer vital feedback. In turn, your people may even begin to feel isolated and unsupported. 

 

Final Thoughts 

Jobs with flexible work hours might be the most popular thing right now especially when we consider talent shortages. But the negative impacts, as well as the positive impact, clearly shows that having too much of it may be detrimental to our team’s career and mental health. In turn, it may be detrimental to the productivity and efficiency of companies.

Undoubtedly, setting up the ideal hybrid working structure requires care and effort. It would rely on trusting your people to get on and do their work, consistent communication and intentionally creating opportunities to bring people together to nurture and maintain interactions.

But then, the benefits of flexible work schedules are significant, especially if you consider that employees given such flexibility report more happiness, productivity, and engagement. Again, no two work environments are the same. So, implementing the ideal work arrangement will depend on your unique situation.