Research Insight: Flexible Working & Intensified Work

March 22, 20143:21 pm2243 views

In recent years, an increasing number of companies have responded to employees’ request for a more flexible workplace environment. Flexible working options and policies are designed to help employees have a degree of choice over when and where they decide to work. Essentially, it enables a mutually beneficial outcome to both the employee and the employer.

When staff have a work-life balance, they gain enjoyment, engagement and commitment. Their incentive to work hard and produce excellence in work outcomes for the company increases.

But if these help employees’ achieve a stronger work-life balance and an increase in workplace motivation – why has workplace flexibility been shown to result in the intensification of work?

Work Intensification

Intensification of work is the effort that employees put into their current jobs during the hours they are actually working and can lead to increases in strain, stress and tension in the workplace.

For example, a single parent with flexible working hours works at a stressful pace in order to be able to leave work early, or when the ‘work for the day’ is complete, to fetch their child from daycare.

Research conducted by Clare Kelliher and Deirdre Anderson of Cranfield University on professional workers explores the rise in work intensification in the UK. They discovered that when people had flexible working hours and allowed to choose their work location, work intensification was a likely outcome.

Their investigation identified three ways in which this happened:

  1. Although workers had fewer working hours, pressure to maintain output remained. Workers also felt they had to be readily available to the company, in order to feel more recognized and important.
  2. People who work remotely are more likely to experience work intensification. Many staff used the time saved on commuting to work to work longer hours from their home, rather than using the saved time for other non-work activities. But work engagement remains a question.
  3. Staff with flexible work options felt they owed the company more and put additional effort into their work, but with extra effort came distress.

Despite these costs, Kelliher and Anderson concluded flextime still led to greater job satisfaction. Productivity and organisational commitment. Discussing the physical and psychological consequences of flexibility options during planning and before implementation would be useful for HR executives.

Technology is changing the world and changing the way employees work and engage where they work. Human resource (HR) managers and business leaders need to think about how to leverage on the benefits of technology. Managers need to optimally balance increased job satisfaction, productivity and commitment of workers from flextime against the costs of the stress it imposes.


Kelliher, C. and Anderson, D. 2010, Doing more with less? Flexible working practices and the intensification of work’. Human Relations, vol. 63, no. 1, pp. 83–106.

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