Media Releases

A downside to work flexibility? Schedule control and its link to work-family stress

September 28, 2010

TORONTO, ON – Is there a down­side to sched­ule con­trol at work? Accord­ing to new research out of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, peo­ple who have more sched­ule con­trol at work tend to report more blur­ring of the bound­aries between work and the oth­er parts of their lives, espe­cial­ly fam­i­ly-relat­ed roles.

Researchers mea­sured the extent of sched­ule con­trol and its impact on work-fam­i­ly process­es using data from a nation­al sur­vey of more than 1,200 Amer­i­can work­ers. Soci­ol­o­gy pro­fes­sor Scott Schie­man (U of T) and PhD stu­dent Marisa Young (U of T) asked study par­tic­i­pants: “Who usu­al­ly decides when you start and fin­ish work each day at your main job? Is it some­one else, or can you decide with­in cer­tain lim­its, or are you entire­ly free to decide when you start and fin­ish work?”

Schie­man says, “Most peo­ple prob­a­bly would iden­ti­fy sched­ule con­trol as a good thing—an indi­ca­tor of flex­i­bil­i­ty that helps them bal­ance their work and home lives. We won­dered about the poten­tial stress of sched­ule con­trol for the work-fam­i­ly inter­face. What hap­pens if sched­ule con­trol blurs the bound­aries between these key social roles?”

The authors describe two core find­ings about the down­sides of sched­ule con­trol:

  • Peo­ple with more sched­ule con­trol are more like­ly to work at home and engage in work–family mul­ti­task­ing activ­i­ties; that is, they try to work on job- and home-relat­ed tasks at the same time while they are at home.
  • In turn, peo­ple who report more work-fam­i­ly role blur­ring also tend to report high­er lev­els of work-fam­i­ly conflict—a major source of stress.

The authors mea­sured work-fam­i­ly con­flict by ask­ing peo­ple ques­tions like: ‘How often have you not had enough time for your fam­i­ly or oth­er impor­tant peo­ple in your life because of your job?’ ‘How often have you not had the ener­gy to do things with your fam­i­ly or oth­er impor­tant peo­ple in your life because of your job?’ and ‘How often has your job kept you from con­cen­trat­ing on impor­tant things in your fam­i­ly and per­son­al life?’ Accord­ing to Schie­man, dis­cov­er­ing the con­di­tions that pre­dict work-fam­i­ly con­flict is crit­i­cal because “a sub­stan­tial body of social sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence demon­strates its link to poor­er phys­i­cal and men­tal health out­comes.”

Schie­man adds, how­ev­er, that their find­ings revealed some ben­e­fits of sched­ule con­trol to coun­ter­act the down­sides: “Peo­ple who had par­tial or full sched­ule con­trol were able to engage in work-fam­i­ly mul­ti­task­ing activ­i­ties with few­er neg­a­tive con­se­quences in terms of con­flict between their work and fam­i­ly roles. Over­all, our find­ings con­tribute to an ongoing—and complicated—debate about the costs and ben­e­fits of dif­fer­ent forms of flex­i­bil­i­ty for work­ers.”

For more infor­ma­tion on the study (“Is There a Down­side to Sched­ule Con­trol for the Work-Fam­i­ly Inter­face?”), which appears online and is forth­com­ing in print in the Jour­nal of Fam­i­ly Issues, please con­tact:

Scott Schie­man, lead author:

U of T media rela­tions: 416–978-0100 or