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Working from home leads to better well-being and often a lower appraisal from superior

New ways of working like working from home can have a positive impact on a person’s career, but only when their superior supports their choice. Researcher Maral Darouei will defend her PhD thesis on sustainable careers on 9 June 2020.

Since the corona crisis, working from home has suddenly become the standard in many professional sectors. What effect does working from home have on your career? And how is it experienced by line managers? In her PhD research, Darouei outlines the impact of various factors on the success of a career. 'More than a third of our lives is devoted to work', says the researcher, who started her PhD in 2016 at the Department of Business Studies. ‘And because work has such a prominent position in our lives, many people worry about making the right career decisions and choosing a career path that will make them happy and successful, and which is therefore sustainable in the future.'

Because of the coronavirus measures, this PhD defence will be online. You can follow the ceremony via a live video stream.

Maral Darouei

But how do you make the right choices? As much as we would like it, a sustainable career does not come about by simply making the right choices. Our careers are constantly influenced by aspects that we have less control over and that arise in various contexts. 'For example, think about the impact on your career that changes in society can have, the organisation you work for or your family members. It is important to examine how the individual together with other the parties involved can shape a sustainable career.'

Self-employed

Darouei’s PhD thesis presents four empirical studies. The first chapter examines how the choice to be self-employed has an impact on the sustainability of a person's career. Using longitudinal data (over 15 years) this study compares the sustainability of the career of self-employed persons to that of persons in salaried employment. Health is taken as the standard for a sustainable career. The researchers establishes that self-employed persons, by having more flexibility in their work hours, are healthier and that their state of health is more stable over the years. These results suggest that self-employed persons are more able to build a sustainable career and that it is important to study the different groups of employees to gain more insights into sustainable careers.

The central focus of the second study is the decision of the employee to work from home. Darouei studied the effect of working from home on the sustainable career using the experience sampling methodology, where 34 employees filled in a questionnaire three times a day for two weeks. 'The results show that employees experience less time pressure and work-family conflicts when they work from home, which results the next day in a higher level of work-related well-being', the researcher says. These findings suggest that the daily decision to work from home can help to promote a sustainable career.

Less involved

How do line managers assess the performance of employees working from home? In the third study, the researcher carried out two vignette studies among 149 university students and 320 line managers. 'It appears that employees who regularly decide to work from home receive lower performance appraisals, because their line manager experiences their work centrality (the importance people attach to their work) and involvement in the organisation as being lower. What's more, the findings show that this applies in particular to employees without children who work from home. This research contributes to the literature on sustainable careers by examining the role of line managers and demonstrating that the path towards a sustainable career is different for employees who have children and employees who do not have children.'

In the final chapter, Darouei's fourth study looks at how women respond to social norms and external barriers (e.g. a lack of PhD opportunities) when it comes to accepting a high-risk leadership position, a so-called 'glass cliff' position. In two experimental vignette studies, 119 university students and 109 employees were offered a leadership position at a successful and an unsuccessful company. Women with less self-effectiveness appear to be more inclined to accept a high-risk leadership position, as they see the position as a an opportunity to do a PhD. Accepting such a position can endanger the path of women towards a sustainable career, because high-risk leadership positions reduce the chance of achieving leadership jobs in the future. This shows that the path to a sustainable career is different for various groups due to contextual challenges, but it also shows that the individual plays an important role.

Darouei hopes that her research will offer a meaningful contribution to the search for a successful career. 'The findings in my thesis are of value to employees who are involved in managing a sustainable career and for organisations and policymakers who are faced with the challenge of promoting sustainable careers.'

Supervisor Dr H Pluut on Maral Darouei's research:

'Career sustainability is under pressure, as is clear again from the current corona crisis.  This is not only concerned with having and keeping a job and income. Working (too) hard and insufficient home-work balance are situations that are not sustainable in the long term. Maral’s PhD research on the one hand shows that in our working lives we are faced with all kinds of complicated choices that can have major consequences on our well-being and career perspectives. On the other hand, the agency of the individual should not be overestimated, because career decisions are always taken in a certain context. This interplay between individual choices and contextual factors is characteristic of this PhD thesis and is, I believe, of major practical and social relevance.  

In her research, Maral has focussed mainly on the 'New Way of Working' which is attracting even more attention in view of the current crisis.  Her research on how home workers are perceived and appraised by line managers and what the consequences are on a daily basis for home workers is extremely interesting. In her research, Maral was frequently confronted with the differences between, for example, men and women or being a parent or not; the challenges of managing a sustainable career are not equal for all. This is in line with what we are hearing in the current crisis about growing inequality between the groups who are affected by the lockdown measures. So I would say that there is more than enough that researchers can explore in this area of study, and Maral has made an inspiring contribution to this over the last four years.'

Text: Floris van den Driesche
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