Home life may be more stressful than the office, study finds

BY Sarah Sheffer  May 22, 2014 at 12:11 PM EST
Hanging a sign in your home that reads "I'd rather be working" sounds counterintuitive, but researchers have found that stress levels may be lower at the office than in your home. Photo by Getty Images

Hanging a sign in your home that reads “I’d rather be working” sounds counterintuitive, but researchers have found that stress levels may be lower at the office than in your home. Photo by Getty Images

Heading home after a long day of work, you may hope to unwind from the stresses of the day. But a new study published by the Council on Contemporary Families says your stress levels may actually be lower at work than in your own home. The study, conducted by three Penn State researchers, measured people’s cortisol levels, a biological marker of stress, and found a significant drop in levels of stress at the office.

The findings of the study may sound counterintuitive. A 2005 Families and Work Institute study cited by the CCF report says almost 90 percent of workers polled feel they do not have enough time in their day to do their job. For those trying to strike a balance between work and home responsibilities, the stresses of the office are often laid to blame.

But CCF says low levels of cortisol at the office shows that work is actually good for you, and workers are generally in better health than their non-working peers. The findings are consistent across gender lines and for parents and non-parents (but more dramatic for non-parents).

“Further contradicting conventional wisdom, we found that women as well as men have lower levels of stress at work than at home,” writes Sarah Damaske, Assistant Professor of Labor & Employment Relations, Sociology, and Women’s Studies at Penn State. “In fact, women may get more renewal from work than men, because unlike men, they report themselves happier at work than at home. It is men, not women, who report being happier at home than at work.”

It is easy to speculate why this may be true. A slew of seemingly endless household chores may be less rewarding than work you are paid for. And at home there is less of a division of labor than in a traditional office setting.

Advice to cut back on work responsibilities to help balance office-family life may not be for the best, Damaske writes. Instead, the co-author recommends employers enact family-friendly policies that allow for more flexibility, leave and telecommuting.