The Importance of "Blended Working" on Work Motivation When Job Demands are High: A Note to Organisations

Have you ever felt that there aren’t enough work hours in the day to get everything done? Have you ever felt under pressure to effectively manage your workloads and complete them in a timely fashion? As it turns out – you are not alone.

Job demands, referred to as work overload or work pressure, has been identified as a major cause of work-related stress. In a recent survey conducted by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2013), approximately 66% of almost 17,000 workers representing 31 European countries identified “hours worked” or “workload” as common causes of work-related stress. In this day and age, organizations increasingly rely on new information and communication technologies. Thus, flexible working or “blended working” has become more common-place. Blended working, defined as having flexibility in when (e.g., traditional hours, weekends) how long (e.g., short vs. long hours), and where (e.g., on-site or off-site) work activities are performed, has been shown to boost intrinsic work motivation among workers (Van Yperen, Rietzschel, & De Jonge, 2014). Intrinsic work motivation is referred to as motivation to perform work-related activities in order to experience pleasure and satisfaction associated with each activity (Fagerlind, Gustavsson, Johansson, & Ekberg, 2013). Researchers have recently recognized the importance of individual differences in boosting and maintaining intrinsic motivation in the workplace – especially in organizations where workloads are heavy. In the case of blended working, perhaps this is beneficial to some workers, but not others?

In a study soon to be published in Computers in Human Behavior in July 2016, researchers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands explored the effects of autonomy needs – referred to as the desire to experience a sense of choice and psychological freedom – and opportunities for blended working on intrinsic motivation at work. They surveyed 657 workers representing a large variety of industries (e.g., healthcare and social assistance, information technology, education, research and science, retail) who were employed for at least 8 hours per week. The survey asked them to report on a series of validated measures. These assessed how demanding their jobs were, what opportunities existed in their jobs for blended working, their personal need for autonomy at work, and how intrinsically motivated they were at work.

The researchers found something striking. High perceived opportunities for blended working (OBW) in the workplace maintained workers’ abilities to cope with increasing job demands, and this occurred for workers with a high need for autonomy (Figure 1 left). Specifically, workers who preferred to work independently and perceived opportunities for blended working maintained levels of intrinsic work motivation as demanding work pressures increased. In contrast, however, workers who preferred work independence but perceived little opportunity for blended working reported significantly lower levels of intrinsic motivation at work. Workers who were low in need for autonomy benefitted less from the opportunity for blended working (Figure 1 right).

This study is significant because it highlights the importance of workers’ psychological needs on maintaining intrinsic work motivation, especially in the event of increasing workloads. Specifically, the study provides evidence that perceived opportunities for blended working is an effective form of job autonomy in itself, which, in turn, can maintain workers’ intrinsic work motivation when job demands increase.

More generally, these findings suggest that organisations and managers should increase efforts to create conditions at work that are in line with workers’ psychological needs, especially in jobs involving high workloads. Thus, psychological assessments could be administered (e.g., assessments of autonomy needs) with work conditions tailored to individual workers. Previous studies have shown that managerial support for psychological needs is positively associated with workers’ psychological health and work-related functioning (e.g., Van den Broeck et al., 2010). When job demands are high, managers should find opportunities for time- and location-independent working for individuals with high autonomy needs, whereas workers with low autonomy needs may benefit more from structure and routine in the workplace. This may also apply to other individual needs in the workplace, such as a need for structure or social support.

What are your thoughts on psychological testing of individuals in the workplace? Do you agree that organisations should make more effort to tailor conditions according to the psychological needs of workers? Tweet us! @EDGEClinical