Does flexible work make R&D employees happier?
Striving for happiness is a universal human goal, and increased happiness is regarded as a key objective in modern scientific literature on socio-economic development. Yet, the connection between happiness and the organisation of work has not received much scrutiny. In our study on Estonian creative R&D employees, we explore the effects of flexible work schedules, the option of teleworking, and other aspects of work arrangements on employee happiness. We uncover that the option to work out of the office substantially increases happiness, and this effect is further augmented by flexible working time arrangements. We also consider the inner circadian cycles of employees and find that evening type individuals (“owls”) feel significantly less joy from their daily lives than their morning type colleagues (“larks”). This is potentially due to genetic factors, but could also be partially caused by a mismatch between the innate time preferences among owls and social as well as employer expectations. Overall, the results of our study suggest that flexible working arrangements could significantly increase the happiness and well-being of creative R&D employees.
More flexibility, better results? Issues in R&D work efficiency
Flexible working time and teleworking have provided grounds for debate among employers, employees, researchers and HR experts. With our study among 153 Estonian creative R&D employees we seek to better understand what the links are between flexible work arrangements and creative work results. We find that flexibility in choosing to work fully or at least partially from home or elsewhere outside the office has a positive effect on the employee’s satisfaction with his/her work results. In regard to working time arrangements, we find that men as well as those with a better education have much better chances of getting jobs that offer flexitime. This in turn has implications for the work outcome, as positions that include flexible working time options are filled by a certain type of employee. Another result from our research is that clearly evening and clearly morning types of people – “owls” and “larks” – are in general more satisfied with their creative work results. This may be due to part of their creative work being done outside normal office hours, providing a potentially less stressful work environment. Overall, employers should consider providing employees more flexibility in the timing and place of work in order to facilitate improved work results – at least in creative R&D jobs.
Why force owls to start work early? The work schedules of R&D employees and sleep
Are you a lark, an owl, or a hummingbird? Getting to work on time might be a breeze for early birds but a challenge for owls, who would prefer to stay in bed, since they went to sleep late. The conventional “nine-to-five” work schedule does not accommodate the natural sleeping habits of all employees. Using data from a survey conducted among Estonian creative R&D employees, we aimed to uncover what the links are between work arrangements, sleep habits and work related sleep disturbances that employees are feeling. We find the sleep schedule of evening-oriented employees or “owls” to be considerably more affected by work-driven constraints than that of other types of employees. Moreover, we find the “owls” to have a much higher level of daytime sleepiness. As there is to some extent a genetic background to the idea of the morning types and evening types of people, it is important that employees as well as regulators acknowledge these important individual differences. Moreover, as impaired sleep could lead to decreased productivity among employees and the underutilisation of their creative abilities, employers and regulators should consider implementing more flexible working arrangements. This could have a major positive impact both on employee work results as well as their overall quality of life.
Using flexitime – for better work or a better life? Issues in R&D work efficiency
Providing flexible working time has become increasingly popular among employers with the purpose of improving efficiency or making jobs more attractive for employees. It is still quite unclear, however, what the motivating factors are in different types of employees in terms of using flexitime. Based on our survey among 153 Estonian creative R&D employees, we find two distinct groups of reasons for the use of flexible work – some aim to improve the work results while some wish to achieve a better work-life balance. Younger and better educated employees, as well as those who sleep less hours at night appeared to be more aimed at better work outcomes through the use of flexitime. Those with larger families, however, appear to value options for improving the work-life balance more when using flexitime. It is important that employers understand that flexible working time is attractive for different types of employees, and for different purposes. This, in turn, may have an impact on what kinds of employees the employer is able to recruit or maintain.
Non-creative tasks: a turn off for creative R&D employees
Reports, applications, formalities and administrative tasks – these are common elements in the work of R&D employees. We performed a study among Estonian creative R&D employees to identify what the link is between the share of creative work in total working time, and the results of the work, as well as the sleepiness, tiredness and wellbeing of the employee. We find that the more creative the R&D employee’s work, the more satisfied the person is with his/her work results, while more routine tasks also decrease creative content in work outcomes. Furthermore, the more creative the work, the happier the employee appears to be. We also find that non-creative tasks increase the daytime sleepiness and tiredness of creative R&D employees. It is important that employers as well as R&D governance bodies consider carefully the adverse effects that extensive non-creative work tasks may have on both the R&D work results as well as individual wellbeing.
Women need flexible work, but men get it – issues in R&D work efficiency
Flexible working time is often advocated as a means of providing better employment opportunities for women by considering the time constraints related to their family obligations. Based on our survey among Estonian creative R&D employees in 2015 and 2016, we find that there is a selection mechanism in filling positions that provide a flexible working time option. In other words, there is a higher probability that certain types of employees get jobs with flexitime than others. It appears that men have much better chances of getting flexible working time despite the understanding that it is women who need flexitime more.
Does anyone want to work 5 days per week and 8 hours per day? Issues in R&D work efficiency
Social norms in regard to weekly and daily working times emerged more than a century ago. The nature of work and the means of doing work have, however, changed a lot over that time. Based on a survey among Estonian creative R&D employees, we sought to understand what types of employees prefer what types of work schedules. It appears that compared to men, women prefer a week where work is concentrated into 3–4 days, while men have a higher preference for a working week spread over 6–7 days. Those who sleep less than the usual 7–8 hours tend to prefer the latter working week arrangement as well. Moreover, general health, morning-types versus evening-types as well as educational level appear to have a significant impact on preferences about weekly and daily work schedules. The standard five-day working weeks and eight-hour working days may not be optimal for everyone. This is an important aspect that R&D employers and regulators should keep in mind when aiming to benefit from the full creative potential of their employees and maximising their individual wellbeing.
Better not to ask your employees to come to work? Issues in R&D work efficiency
The understanding that work is done at a workplace is a deeply-rooted social norm, including in the case of creative R&D work. We have studied Estonian creative R&D employees to find out the links between distance work and work outcomes, individual wellbeing, sleep and tiredness. It appears that those who have a distance work option perceive their work results significantly higher than those without that option. Moreover, employees that can work outside the office are happier and less tired, and they feel the constraints that work sets on their sleep habits much less than those who have to do their work at the workplace only. Although some creative R&D jobs may require the use of specific laboratories, equipment, data or teamwork, providing the distance work option appears to be beneficial overall for both the employer and the employee.
Sitting at a desk at work makes creative employees tired
We seek to identify how working hours spent at the workplace relate to work outcomes and the tiredness of the employee. Our study covers Estonian creative R&D employees – product developers, IT developers as well as academic and applied researchers. It appears that the greater the share of working time spent at the workplace, the more tired employees feel. Furthermore, the more time the employee does his or her work at the office, the more they perceive the results of the work as lower. Tiredness may be related to the obligation to do the work in a place and at a time that does not coincide with the employee’s creative mood. In view of these results, employers may wish to consider whether sitting at a desk at work for a fixed number of hours is the best way to organise the work of creative employees.
Fixed-term contracts – a turnoff for R&D employees
Fixed-term employment contracts are very common in the current project-based era. Our research group has been seeking to find out how fixed versus permanent contracts link to how Estonian R&D employee perceive their wellbeing, tiredness and sleepiness. We found that the happiness of those working with fixed-term contracts is significantly lower – both in terms of current happiness and potential happiness looking forward. Moreover, employees with fixed-term contracts appeared to be considerably more tired and experience greater levels of daytime sleepiness. We did not find, however, any significant differences in the perceived work results of R&D employees with fixed-term contracts compared to those with permanent contracts. Employers as well as R&D governance bodies should keep in mind the adverse effects that fixed-term contracts may have on individual wellbeing.
Long working days and falling asleep at work – issues in R&D work efficiency
Excessive daytime sleepiness is a major problem in the modern 24/7 society. In our study among Estonian creative R&D employees, we sought to investigate the links between work arrangements, duration of the working day and daytime sleepiness. The average duration of the working day among our sample of 153 creative R&D employees is as long as 10 hours – considerably more than the statutory eight hours. As might be expected, the more working hours and the less sleeping hours, the more serious the daytime sleepiness problem is. Moreover, we find that employees that have the flexibility to choose when they work (and where they work) experience less daytime sleepiness, and also feel that their sleep is significantly less disturbed compared to peers with more rigid work arrangements. Flexitime and distance work may therefore help considerably in reducing work-related daytime sleepiness.
Who has a better chance of getting higher salaries among creative R&D employees?
It is a known fact from previous studies that on average, women earn less than men. Although the size of the gender pay gap differs from country to country, this statement is true almost everywhere. This brief study aims to contribute to the discussion on the gender pay gap by examining the earnings of a specific demographic – Estonian creative R&D employees. Not surprisingly, we discovered that gender is an important and statistically significant driver of salary levels with women being less likely than men to receive higher levels of salaries. In addition, we find that age is a further statistically significant determinant of salary levels. The effect of age on earnings forms an inverse-U-shape with younger and older employees having a lower likelihood of earning higher salaries compared to their middle-aged colleagues.