Stressed out? Cutting back at work might not be the best remedy.
Despite popular belief, new research suggests that being at home might actually be more stressful than being at work. The findings stem from a recent study that measured cortisol levels in both environments. Cortisol (also known as the “stress hormone”) was generally found to be higher while at home.
Over 100 people took part in the study, which also asked participants to rate their moods in both settings.
“I had thought we might find that stress levels were lower at work because there is a large body of research that finds that people who work have better mental and physical health,” said Sarah Damaske, assistant professor of labor and employment relations, sociology, and women’s studies at Penn State University. “But I was surprised that there was such a strong effect and that we found it across such a wide range.”
According to Damaske, the findings held true across gender, marital status, occupation and education. She speculates that the act of focusing on a work task and successfully completing it could be good for you.
“Also, paid work is culturally valued in our society in a way that work done in the home is not,” she said. “It seems like this also could play a role.”
Damaske points to prior research showing that mothers who work full-time throughout their 20s and 30s experience better mental and physical health at age 45 when compared to mothers who work part-time, stay at home or experience unemployment.
According to researchers, both parents and non-parents reported feeling more stress at home than at work. This goes hand in hand with a 2013 Pew Report that found roughly half of all working parents struggle to balance the responsibilities of work and home.
Damaske says that companies can implement policies to alleviate this tug of war, which would also support workers to be more productive. These types of family-friendly initiatives allow workers more flexibility under the condition that they complete all of their work tasks. The approach is known as a results-only work environment, where workers are evaluated on performance – not presence.
By Marianne Hayes