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Summary:

Spending plenty of time in your chair at your home office doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that is good for your health, but there is one aspect of the web worker lifestyle that may make it healthier than life at a traditional office: autonomy.

Monkey in the cage

Sitting, scientists now tell us, can kill, so spending plenty of time in your chair at your home office, local coworking space or the neighborhood cafe doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that would be good for your health (especially considering all the cappuccinos web workers need to order to keep the waitress from giving them the evil eye). But there is one aspect of the web worker lifestyle that may make it lower stress and therefore healthier than life at a traditional office: autonomy.

First, it’s important to understand how large an impact stress really can have on your physical as well as mental health. The science of stress was investigated through studies of baboons and then later in humans, and a good summary of the findings was written up in a lengthy article last year in Wired:

Chronic stress, it turns out, is an extremely dangerous condition. And not just for baboons… While stress doesn’t cause any single disease… it makes most diseases significantly worse. The list of ailments connected to stress is staggeringly diverse and includes everything from the common cold and lower-back pain to Alzheimer’s disease, major depressive disorder, and heart attack. Stress hollows out our bones and atrophies our muscles. It triggers adult-onset diabetes and is a leading cause of male impotence. In fact, numerous studies of human longevity in developed countries have found that psychosocial factors such as stress are the single most important variable in determining the length of a life.

So what exactly causes health-sapping stress? It’s not just the hustle of an over-scheduled life or a high-pressure position. It’s also about an inability to control your own fate. In the baboon studies, scientists found that low-ranking animals suffered the most stress, which was later found to be equally true in humans. Being pushed around by others contributes hugely to stress levels.

Good thing you have the autonomy of the web worker lifestyle then. As David Rock points out in Psychology Today, traditional cube dwellers don’t get a lot of it:

In the workplace it’s not always possible to give people a lot of autonomy: there are products to sell and processes to follow. The very act of going to work for a firm is an automatic reduction in autonomy — you don’t have control over your time any more. (An ex-monk, who now works in organizations, thinks the monastery is more free than the average company, at least there he could drink!) However with a little creativity you can give people the perception of autonomy.

But as a web worker there’s no need to trick yourself into feeling autonomous – you actually are. And as an added bonus, other experts also tell us that autonomy is key to motivation as well.

Do you find the autonomy of web work adds to your stress or lessens it?

Photo courtesy stock.xchng user Piku.

  1. Autonomy is definitely NOT something you get when you’re tied up to your tiny office cubicle for eight hours a day. I think businesses should keep their employees options open – if they want to telecommute or not and a change of scenery won’t be that bad either.

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    1. How will you measure productivity then ? setting goals and processes may cause stress, but without that stress, no body will do the job or do it correctly… Some call it a positive stress

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