A new report from Pennsylvania State University, published by The Council on Contemporary Families, states that people feel less stress at work than they do at home. Sarah Damaske, a professor of labor and employment, was dubious about the stereotype of Americans working a long, hard day and coming home, finally able to relax. She decided to find ways to measure the biological markers that indicate stress in the human body.
Cortisol is a stress hormone. Damaske measured the levels of cortisol from 122 subjects for three days. Six times a day, the subjects would provide saliva swabs and report how they were feeling. What Damaske found, while surprising, supported her suspicions. The lowest levels of cortisol were recorded during the subjects’ work hours. Across education, gender and occupation variances, the results were the same, making it a powerful finding. People were experiencing less stress at work than they were at home.
The men in the self-reports claimed that their days were largely unchanged from the time they woke up to their bedtime. Women reported that they were more content at work. Damaske surmised that this was possibly due to the fact that even though men do more around the house than they did decades ago, the evening chores are still falling to the woman in the home.
There could also be an argument made for the absence of domestic strife in the workplace. When busy working, there is no time to ruminate about bills and mortgage payments. Also, if an individual is experiencing abuse or neglect in their home, work can serve as a sort of sanctuary. Situations like having special needs family members, loved ones with alcoholism, tyrannical neighbors and unsatisfactory living quarters can all make the workplace a less stressful place to be.
Author of The Time Bind, Arlie Russell Hochschild, found that a big reason people find work to be less stressful is that, in a work environment, even when it is busy and job performance is high, it is recognized. That is often not the case in the home. Doing the right thing at work earns accolades. At home, especially if there are children, doing the right thing often earns, “I hate you, Mom!”
Other studies have concluded that those who work possess higher mental and physical health measures in comparison to those who do not work. Because of these findings, Damaske points out that cutting back on work to help mitigate home strife may not necessarily be as successful as once thought.
What she suggests is, since the workday seems to be more stressful at home than the weekend days, companies help make transitions between the workplace and home a smoother experience. Telecommuting options and more flexible hours are a great place to start. Damaske also suggests a cutting-edge concept in workplace management. The “results only work environment” (ROWE) is a brainchild of Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson. The idea is to not worry so much about how many hours are worked, but instead focus on the results of the work that is accomplished. If people can be afforded the opportunity at work to appreciate life at home more, there is a chance that they will not feel so stressed out when they are there.
By Stacy Lamy