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Effects of Work Location on Motivation ArthurP. Br7ef Advances in the technology of telecommunications and in the availability of personal computers have stimulated questions about the desirability of employees working at home rather than at conventional locations. One can readily envision, for example, a computer programmer working at home with a personal com- puter linked to the personal computers of other programmers, as well as to the centralized computing facilities of the program- mer's organization. The question is whether this arrangement is more advantageous than one in which the programmers perform their duties at a centralized site. The advantages and disadvantages of homework can be as- certa~ned by using a number of different criteria. Here, only one criterion will be used the potential impact on an employee's motivation. Working is not an end in itself; rather, it is a means of acquiring a variety of satisfying results or outcomes. If it were not for the personal satisfaction derived from these outcomes, individuals would not seek to work. According to V.H. Vroom (1964), working (1) requires the ex- penditure of energy, (2) contributes to the production of goods or Arthur P. Brief is professor of management/organizational behavior at New York University. 66
EFFECTS OF WORM LOCATION ON MOTIVATION 67 services, (3) requires social interaction, (4) at least partially de- fines social status, and (5} provides wages.) These characteristics can be viewed as classes of outcomes associated with performing work.2 In large part, an employee's motivation to work is a func- tion of the degree to which he or she believes that the work will lead to certain levels of these outcomes. This view of work motiva- tion is analogous to Vroom's approach to the topic; that is, people rationally choose work roles based on the expected utilities of those roles. Motivation involves the choice to initiate effort, to expend a certain amount of effort, and to persist in expending that effort over a period of time.3 Obviously, these choices not only influence the role an employee selects but also the level at which the work is performed. Thus, the interplay between work motivation and work location has implications for job choice and job perfor- mance. If working at home as contrasted with working in a more conventional location does not influence an employee's expecta- tions, an employer could conclude that location does not influence motivation. This analysis is based on several assumptions: First, work performed at home is essentially the same as work performed at other locations. If the work varies, then the level of the outcomes might also vary. Outcome levels associated with financial analysis of a large corporation, for example, and prepa- ration of an individual's income tax return are likely to be differ- ent. So, in comparing outcome levels of a financial analyst work- ing at home with those of a tax accountant working at a more conventional location, the differences observed may be due to the nature of the work rather than to the locations. Second, the personnel policies, practices, and procedures ap- plied to employees working at home are like those applied to em- ployees working in the office. In particular, it is assumed that an employer does not vary selection, training, and compensation ac- cording to work location. If different types of people are selected to work at home and they are trained and compensated differently from their conventionally located counterparts, then levels of out- come would vary with location. Compensation policies are an obvious example. If a typist work- ing at home is paid according to the number of pages typed and a conventionally located counterpart is paid according to the num- ber of hours worked, then the wages of the two employees will
68 ISSUES AND PROBLEMS differ. Any differences in work-related results attributable to lo- cation per se would be confounded. Differences in selection and training can also confound compar- isons between outcome levels. If an employer selects more experi- enced individuals to work at home, then work experience contrib- utes to an employee's attained status. Differences in the status outcomes acquired by the employees in this instance would be attributable to work experience even though they are also af- fected by location. As a final instance, training can help make a job easier and reduce the amount of energy expended. [I such training varies by location, so would outcome levels. The third and last assumption concerns the choice of prospec- tive home-based employees. Individuals vary considerably in their preferences for work-related outcomes. Thus, people with certain preferences may choose to work at home because they ex- pect different levels of various outcomes from those who prefer working at more conventional sites. Although this reasoning is plausible, it is assumed here not to be the case. The logic underly- ing the necessity for the assumption runs as follows: To a degree, employees performing a given role can influence the levels of out- comes available to them and, in fact, do so dependent on their preferences. Therefore, if the preferences of those working at home vary from those of their conventionaTiy located counter- parts, outcome levels also would vary. Thus, differences in out- come levels would be due to the types of employees working at home and not necessarily to their work location. An example should help to clarify this argument. People vary in their need for affiliation with other people and, therefore, in their preference for work-related social interaction. A person with a rel- atively high need for affiliation can satisfy this need through more social interaction at work. This person would need more so- cial interaction regardless of work site but he or she may also se- lect to work in a conventional site, expecting it to provide higher levels of social contact than a homework site. This person would place more emphasis on social interaction than another person with less need for affiliation who gravitated toward work at home. The reported differences in outcome levels between these two per- sons would be attributable to both the actual levels of their re- spective work locations as well as to the levels actively antici- pated by each individual. Attributing the impact of location per se on reported outcomes would be problematic.
EFFECTS OF WORK LOCATION ON MOTIVATION 69 Collectively, the three assumptions compare the influence of work at home on outcomes, hoisting constant across work loca- tions (1) the nature of the work performed, (2) employer-applied personnel policies, practices, and procedures, and (3) the outcome preference of employees. It may be charged that these assump- tions negate the exploration of many interesting questions raised about work at home. The assumptions, however, are required to allow an exploration of the impact of work location on work motivation. EFFECTS OF HOMEWORK ON OUTCOME LEVELS Expenditure of Energy While not wanting to be overworked, people do enjoy being kept busy. Satisfaction derived from the expenditure of mental or physical energy has been attributed to a belief that hard work per se is morally correct.4 Others attribute it to neuropsychological factors.5 How might this level of energy expenditure vary accord- ing to work location? Does working at home adversely affect an employee's activity level? Adverse effects would be expected only if less work is required from those working at home than from those at conventional sites. This could occur in one of two ways. First, the flow of work to homeworkers may be more difficult to manage than the flow to employees in a conventional site. Second, because of the lack of close supervision of employees working at home, employers may demand less output from their home-based employees. Both prob- lems should be manageable, particularly with the use of available telecommunications technologies. Furthermore, homeworkers may find it easier to satisfy their need to expend energy than their conventionally located counterparts because of the opportunity to substitute domestic tasks when luBs in their work loads do occur. Thus, if one assumes that employees working at home do not necessarily prefer to expend more or less energy than their con- ventionally located counterparts, it seems safe to conclude that they need not suffer the consequences of too little activity simply because of where they work. Indeed, if work flows and demands are equally managed across sites, the employee working at home may be in a more advantageous position.
70 ISSUES AND PROBLEMS Production For a variety of reasons, the goods or services an employee pro- duces may serve as an outcome. J.R. Hackman and G.R. Oldham (197516 have argued, for example, that tasks perceived to have a substantial impact on the lives or work of other people are satisfy- ing. In this sense, the work of a farmer or physician can be seen as potentially more important than that of an elevator operator or gas station attendant. It has been assumed, however, that the work performed by the employee at home is equivalent to the work performed at a conventional site. This assumption ad- dresses only the objective or physical attributes of the tasks per- formed and is not concerned with the psychological meaning an individual may attach to the goods and services produced. A large part of that meaning is derived from the objectively defined tasks performed, but two individuals performing the same tasks may attach different levels of meaning to the impact of those tasks on others. The clerk who transcribes medical records in a hospital's patient service area, for example, may more readily see the impact that work has on the quality of patient care than the clerk who transcribes the same type of records at a remote site. Generally, the context in which a job is performed can influence the degree to which a good or service produced Is seen as meaning- ful. In that regard, homeworkers may be relatively deprived of the satisfaction derived from producing goods or services that are perceived to have an impact on others. Employers might want to consider ways to show their homeworkers the likely impact of their work, ant! supervisors may need to be trained to communi- cate with homeworkers. Such communications all too frequently are ignored at conventional work sites to ignore communica- tions in the case of homework may have negative motivational consequences. Social Interaction Work is a social activity with the potential for frequent con- tacts with subordinates, coworkers, superiors, and others. Such social interactions can satisfy a worker's needs for affiliation. These interactions are influenced considerably by work location. Compared with conventional work sites, the home is socially iso-
EFFECTS OF WORK LOCATION ON MOTIVATION 71 lated, at least in terms of face-to-face contacts with coworkers. Telecommunications technologies can provide substitutes for face-to-face interactions, but the extent to which these substi- tutes provide satisfaction levels comparable to those supplied by face-to-face interactions remains largely unexplored. Substitutes for work-related interactions, however, can be found in the home. Interactions with family members and friends outside of work can satisfy affiliation needs. The efficacy of such substitution, however, is open to question. it probably is safe to conclude that the employee working at home is relatively deprived of satisfac- tory levels of social interactions. if this conclusion is correct, it is not only the employee's needs for affiliation that go unfulfilled. The opportunity to learn "appropriate" role behaviors, directly or indirectly, from others at work is hampered as well. What can employers do to offset the negative consequences of the limited work-related social interaction encountered by home- workers? Available alternatives involve encouraging face-to-face contact among employees. Whatever the form, these interactions are intended to help the home-based employee establish social ties at work that help fulfill affiliation needs and other useful func- tions. An employer of home-based workers might consider a men- tor program, which would assign more senior colleagues to newly hired home-based employees to aid them in adjusting to their new jobs. The mentors would teach the home-based employees the or- ganization's informal norms and provide social support. Like any alternative approach, such a program would have to be evaluated in terms of the benefits accrued versus the direct production time lost. Social Status Status is the ranking of people in a social system. It influences two needs: the need for affiliation, and the need for personal growth and development. In the former case, an individual's sta- tus helps determine with whom he or she communicates and the direction of those communications. Persons with high status have a greater number of options in this regard and have more communications directed to them. In the latter case, a person's status at least partially reflects achievements and can be used by an indiviclual to gauge the level of his or her personal growth and development.
72 ISSUES AND PROBLEMS One's job or occupation is a principal determinant of status. Some aspects of a job that contribute to status include (1) the skill or knowledge required to perform the job, (2) rank, (3) wages, (4) seniority, and (5) the status of one's associates.7 Whether working at home contributes to status is an unanswered question. The an- swer probably varies with employers. In this respect, symbols perpetuated by employers are important because they denote sta- tus. The symbols used by employers include titles, offices, and furnishings, and perquisites such as a personal secretary, a car and driver, and access to executive dining rooms. Clearly, the availability and meaning of some of these symbols vary according to work location. Take the case of offices and their furnishings. Offices signal higher status if they have fewer occupants, are larger, have more windows, and are better furnished. But what do these features imply if they are supplied by the employee working at home and not the employer and are not as readily apparent to the employee's work associates as they would be if the employee were located at a conventional site? It can be concluded that the status implications of a home-based employee's office are less po- tent than those of conventionally located coworkers. The same case can be made for other status symbols; thus, the home-based employee is handicapped to a degree by work loca- tion. This disadvantage might be overcome by supplying the home-based employee with nontraditional symbols of their at- tained status. These might include the number and type of employer-provided telecommunications devices and the people to whom those devices are linked. Regardless of the symbols used, it is important to recognize their motivational relevance and the ef- fect of working at home on their availability and meaning. Wages Wages are probably the most important form of motivation be- cause of the role they play in satisfying the greatest array of hu- man needs economic support, job status, social affiliation, and personal growth and development. This analysis is based, in part, on the assumption that employ- ers do not vary their compensation policies as a function of work location. Given this assumption and the relative importance of wages, it can be concluded that the impact of working at home on the motivational bases of work is exceedingly limited. As long as
EFFECTS OF WORK LOCATION ON MOTIVATION 73 employers do not vary their compensation policies, this conclu- sion is sound; however, employers may choose to base a home- worker's compensation on criteria different from those used for conventionally located employees. Should they do this? Clearly, the answer is no. Money moti- vates high performance levels if it is allocated in an equitable manner contingent on job performance.7 Compensation policies based on these findings will prove to be effective regardless of work location and thus should not vary by location. In a very general and limited sense, wages can vary legitimately because of homework; this variance is more attributable to employees than employers. For a presumably small group of individuals the op- portunity to work at home is an opportunity to earn wages not otherwise available. Some people, for a variety of reasons includ- ing family responsibility and health status, cannot work at a con- ventional site. In such cases the motivation of homework wages would be quite powerful and might attract new individuals into the labor force. Further, for many individuals, homework may be less costly than working at a conventional site, and real income levels may be enhanced. Money saved by working at home could include doBars spent on a work wardrobe, commuting, and meals. On balance, it appears that working at home has no negative moti- vational implications and might, in a limited sense, have some positive ones in terms of the available wage levels. SUMMARY OF EFFECTS In terms of motivation, working at home has some advantages and disadvantages. It appears to have a marginally positive im- pact on two motivational bases of work: expenditure of energy and wages, and a potentially negative impact on three others: the production of goods or services, social status, and social interac- tions. It appears that employers can act to mitigate the poten- tiaBy negative consequences of the first two. Taking into consid- eration these potential actions and the motivational dominance of wages, this analysis suggests that while working at home will have some impact on the motivational bases of work, it will be minimal. People do differ in preferences, and these individual dif- ferences will influence the nature of the relationship between work location and the motivation.
74 ISSUES AND PROBLEMS CONTINUITY, CHANGE, AND MOTIVATION On balance, the effects of homework on motivation will not be profound. To some, this may be a welcome but unexpected and therefore questionable conclusion. It should be. The empirical data necessary to ascertain the impact of homework on the moti- vation to work are not available. Cooperative efforts among em- ployees, employers, and social and behavioral scientists are re- quired to produce that data. The thoughts presented here may serve to isolate some of the particular issues that neeci more re- search. It has been predicted that the results of such research will indicate some, but not considerable, influence of homework on the motivational bases of work, and that these findings will be ques- tioned due to their unexpected nature. People have come to expect change, not continuity. They also expect that technological advances necessarily produce signifi- cant and immediate social and psychological changes. In the cur- rent instance, attention has been focused on technology facilitat- ing work at home and the effect of working at home on motivation. History, however, suggests considerable continuity rather than change as a result of a shift to work at home. The Industrial Revolution brought with it a movement from work at home to what are today considered conventional sites. Historians have hypothesized that this shift contributed to the demise of the so-called work ethic in America. Recent historical evidence, how- ever, presents a more complex picture. D. T. Rodgers (197818 has convincingly argued, "From the restless industrial workers of the nineteenth century to the hard hats and survey respondents of the twentieth, the tension between pride in one's job and es- trangement from it has a long and enduring history" (p.180~. More generally, D. Yankelovich (198119 has observed, "In American life, continuity and far-reaching change do coexist with each other" (p. XVII). Moreover, W.R. Nord (1982),~° in discus- sing the future of the study of employee behavior, has asserted, "Many of the changes that will occur can be better anticipated and understood when a strong prevailing wind of continuity is assumed" (p.946~. My analysis argues that continuity in the moti- vational bases of work will coexist with the shift toward work at home, and that the assumption that this continuity will occur will help in the adjustment to homework.
EFFECTS OF WORK LOCA TION ON MOTIVA TION 75 Thus, some anticipated changes in the motivational bases of work may occur with a shift to work at home; however, most of the negative consequences of these changes can be counteracted. Necessary strategies should be formulated now and then built upon the forthcoming empirical data required to ensure their success. NOTES 1. Vroom, V.H. Work and Motivation. New York: Wiley, 1964. 2. Aldag, R.J. and A.P. Brief. Task Design and Employee Motivation. Glenview, Ill.: Scott Foresman, 1979. 3. Campbell, J.P. and R.D. Pritchard. Motivation theory in industrial and organiza- tional psychology. In M.D. Dunnette, ed. Handbook of Industrial and Organiza- tional Psychology. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1976. 4. Weber, M. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. London: Allan and Unwin, 1930. Scott, W.E. Activation theory and task design. Organizational Behavior and Hu- man Performance, 1:3-30, 1966. 6. Hackman, J.R. and G.R. Oldham. Development of the job diagnostic survey. Journal of Applied Psychology, 60:159-170, 1975. 7. Aldag, R.J. and A.P. Brief. Managing Organizational Behavior. St. Paul: West, 1981. 8. Rodgers, D.T. The Work Ethic in Industrial America 1850-1920. Chicago: Uni- versity of Chicago Press, 1978. 9. Yankelovich, D. New Rules: Searching for Self-Fullfillment in a World Turned Upside Down. New York: Random House, 1981. 10. Nord, W.R. Continuity and change in industrial/organizational psychology: Learning from previous mistakes. Professional Psychology, 13:942-953, 1982.