This post is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center

Summary
Many organizations like Yahoo! and Best Buy initially embraced workplace flexibility – the ability of employees to decide when and where to work. However, more recently, practitioners and scholars have raised concerns over the negative consequence of workplace flexibility. For instance, telework and remote work lead to less collaboration and social interaction among coworkers. Research shows that there is a negative association between workplace flexibility and received support from colleagues. Authors of this paper examined the link between workplace flexibility, helping behavior, and work engagement. They argued that workplace flexibility has a negative impact on employees’ work engagement through a decline in helping coworkers. This is due to the lack of relevant information and knowledge crucial to helping others. As a result, employees are unable to glean the benefits of helping others. In addition, the authors also proposed the positive role of communication control in mitigating the negative effect of workplace flexibility in work engagement. Communication control refers to the freedom employees have in using communication technologies for work. If employees feel in control of how and when they can use communication technologies, they can maintain meaningful interactions with coworkers.

Method
This study conducted a two-wave survey panel in 2012 and 8 months later in 2013. In the first wave, 1253 employees responded to the survey. The final sample included 329 Dutch employees with an average age of 45. There were 62% male respondents, and 44% had earned an advanced degree. The hypotheses were tested using structural equation modeling.

Key Findings

1) Spatial flexibility (i.e., where to work) is negatively associated with work engagement through a reduction in helping behavior.

2) Helping coworkers increases work engagement but not vice versa.

3) Temporal flexibility (i.e., when to work) did not influence helping behavior.

4) Communication control facilitates helping behavior, which in turn increases work engagement.

Implications for Practice
Organizations and mangers should 1) create a balanced flexible culture in which employees have communication control, 2) build organizational norms that encourage employees’ autonomy on their use of communication technologies for work, and 3) motivate employees to come to office at least 2½ days a week, or alternatively, organize weekly events and meetings to update the work processes.

Author(s), Title and Publication
ter Hoeven, C. L., & van Zoonen, W. (2020). Helping others and feeling engaged in the context of workplace flexibility: The importance of communication control. International Journal of Business Communication, https://doi.org/10.1177/2329488419898799.

Location of Article
This article is available online at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2329488419898799 (abstract free, purchase full article)

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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