Staying Remotely Engaged: Interruptions and Breaks During Remote Work

June 1, 2024

Working from home has proven to be a unique challenge for many as companies have shifted toward remote and hybrid models of work in recent years. Frequent interruptions during work hours from spouses or children or frequent interruptions to family life from remote work can be significant causes of stress. Mental and emotional resources can be taxed by this overlap of family and work lives, resulting in a lower quality of work, greater stress, and lower overall satisfaction for the employee. Spouses may also experience stress from the employee’s work arrangement, especially in terms of family overload. With this in mind, we conducted a study to see what types of breaks would best contribute to overcoming additional stress and resource drain while working remotely. 

Stock image of woman on zoom meeting standing in front of two computer monitors and standing at a standing desk in a living room.

Challenge Stress vs. Hinderance Stress

In our study, we examined two different types of stress that employees face: challenge stress and hinderance stress. Challenge stress is associated with positive outcomes, as it encourages employees to work harder and improve at what they are doing. This type of stress typically results from doing work that employees enjoy and that challenges them in satisfying ways.1,2Hinderance stress is associated with negative outcomes and the attitude that remote work presents hassles, barriers, or threats to progress, which inhibit learning, growth, and/or goal achievement.In order to measure and draw conclusions about these types of stress among remote workers and their spouses, we collected three complete online survey responses from 391 couples (two from employees, one from spouses) during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic response. In these surveys, we asked the couples to think about how remote work had affected them with regards to: interruptions from family during work hours, challenge and hinderance stress response in remote work, their use of breaks, their satisfaction with their work arrangement, family overload, and work engagement.

Study Findings

Through our study, we found that employees who use breaks for non-work goals (such as household chores, making plans with friends, or caring for children) and self-care (meditation, getting a massage, reading, eating a snack, engaging in a hobby, etc.) exhibited better overall views of their remote work stress (higher challenge, lower hinderance) than those who used breaks for neither. We also found that for spouses, hinderance stress carries over from the remote worker, while challenge stress does not, meaning that a remote worker’s negative work stress is more likely to affect the spouse and family life than the positive stress. 

In addition, we found that interruptions from family during remote work tends to have a negative impact on the remote worker and that those who are best able to minimize those interruptions through the day tend to find remote work more satisfying. One way to minimize interruptions is through the very same types of breaks (used for self-care or non-work goals). For instance, if an interruption through the day is needed to care for one’s children, it may be more beneficial to take a break to focus on taking care of them, rather than doing half jobs as parent and employee. For this reason, it is important for companies that have remote employees to educate employees on the benefits of taking breaks for self-care and non-work goals and set normal expectations about how and when these breaks should be taken.

Real Estate Implications

For real estate agents, working from home has been the norm for much longer than in other industries. Thus, many in real estate may already feel comfortable and productive working remotely. However, by understanding the types of stress that one can face from remote work, especially family interruptions and how to deal with them, it is possible to greatly improve productivity and job satisfaction. 

Stock image of a woman sitting on the grass in a park and eating a bowl of fruit while smiling and looking in the distance.

Given that our research and previous studies support the idea that breaks make workers happier and more productive, it would also be beneficial for the vast majority of remote workers to take breaks regularly and deliberately. Previous research shows that two-thirds of remote workers take very infrequent breaks, and that half are working longer hours than they would in the office.4 In an environment like real estate where there aren’t likely to be strict limitations on working hours or styles, it is important to remember that breaks are a good thing and will improve the quality of work in the long run. 

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Recommended Reading

Perry, Sara Jansen, Dawn S. Carlson, K. Michele Kacmar, Min (Maggie) Wan, and Merideth J. Thompson (2022), “Interruptions in Remote Work: A Resource-based Model of Work and Family Stress,” Journal of Business and Psychology, 38, 1023-1041.

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  1. Dawson, Kevin M., Kimberly E. O’Brien, and Terry A. Beehr (2016), “The Role of Hindrance Stressors in the Job Demand–Control–Support Model of Occupational Stress: A Proposed Theory Revision.” Journal of Organizational Behavior, 37, 397-415.
  2. Hobfoll, Stevan E. (1989), “Conservation of Resources: A New Attempt at Conceptualizing Stress,” American Psychologist, 44, 513-524.
  3. Cavanaugh, Marcie A., Wendy R. Boswell, Mark V. Roehling, and John W. Boudreau (2000), “An Empirical Examination of Self-Reported Work Stress Among U.S. Managers,” Journal of Applied Psychology, 85, 65-74.
  4. Radulović, Azra Huršidić, Roko Žaja, Milan Milošević, Bojana Radulović, Ivica Luketić, and Tajana Božić (2021), “Work from Home and Musculoskeletal Pain in Telecommunications Workers During COVID-19 Pandemic: A Pilot Study,” Archives of Industrial Hygiene & Toxicology, 72, 232-239.

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About the Authors

Sara Jansen Perry, PhD
Associate Professor of Management and Ben William Endowed Professor, Baylor University
Dr. Sara Jansen Perry (PhD – University of Houston) teaches courses in HR Staffing & Employee Relations, as well as Negotiation & Conflict Resolution in both the online MBA program and undergraduate levels. She conducts research on employee stress and well-being, including factors involved in remote and hybrid work. In 2023, she won the Brent Clum award for scholarly productivity among tenured faculty in the Hankamer School of Business. In 2017, she won the Outstanding Scholarship Award for research productivity among tenure-track faculty at Baylor University and the Young Scholar Award in the Hankamer School of Business. She publishes in high-visibility journals, such as Journal of Applied Psychology and Journal of Management, in addition to a book published by Oxford University Press titled “Organized Innovation: A Blueprint for Renewing America’s Prosperity.” Dr. Perry serves on the editorial board for Journal of Management, Human Resource Management, and Human Resource Management Review. She is a member of Academy of Management, Southern Management Association, and Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

Dawn S. Carlson, PhD
Director, McBride Center for International Business and H. R. Gibson Chair of Organizational Development, Management, Baylor University
Dr. Dawn Carlson’s (PhD – Florida State University) research focuses on the intersection of work and family life, including work-family conflict, enrichment, and balance. Her research has appeared in leading academic journals including the Journal of Organizational Behavior, Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of ManagementComputers in Human Behavior, and Human Relations, among others. Dr. Carlson has co-authored the book “Beyond Juggling: Rebalancing Your Busy Life.” Additionally, she has received several significant accolades and awards including Florida State University’s Distinguished Doctoral Alumna for 2018, the Graduate Business Association’s Outstanding Academician award, multiple Outstanding Professor awards, and multiple Best Publication awards.

K. Michele Kacmar, PhD
Professor of Management, University of South Alabama
Dr. Michele Kacmar’s (PhD – Texas A&M University) research interests include impression management, organizational policies, ethics, and work family conflict. Her research has appeared in leading academic journals including the Academy of Management Journal, Organizational Management Journal, Journal of Applied PsychologyJournal of Social Psychology, and Human Relations, among others. Dr. Kacmar also co-authored the strategic management textbook “Human Resource Management: A Strategic Approach.” Additionally, she has received several significant accolades and awards including the Michael J. Driver Best Careers Paper award, the Mays Distinguished Doctoral Alumni award, and the Best Doctoral Student Paper award, among others.

Min (Maggie) Wan, PhD
Associate Professor of Management, Texas State University
Dr. Maggie Wan’s (PhD – University of Wisconsin) research interests include Work-Life Issues, Employee Well-Being, and Cross-Cultural Human Resource Management. Her research has been featured in journals such as the Journal of Management, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, and Human Resource Management Journal. In the classroom, she teaches subjects such as International Business, Organizational Behavior, and Managing and Negotiating across Cultures. Dr. Wan has won awards such as the Presidential Distinction Award for Excellence in Scholarly/Creative Activities and Presidential Distinction Award for Excellence in Teaching from TSU, the Teaching Award of Honor from the Texas State Alumni Association, and a nomination for the Rosabeth Moss Kanter International Award for Research Excellence in Work and Family. She has also served as a reviewer on a number of journals and other publications.

Merideth J. Thompson, PhD
Professor of Management, Utah State University
Dr. Merideth Thompson’s (PhD – Vanderbilt University) research focuses on two main areas: bad employee behavior and the work-family interface. She is particularly interested in how abusive supervision and workplace incivility cross over to affect an employee’s family experiences. Dr. Thompson’s current research also investigates the impact of toxic workplaces on employee health and healthcare costs. Her research has appeared in leading academic journals including Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of ManagementPersonnel Psychology, Journal of Organizational BehaviorHuman Relations, and others. Dr. Thompson has been interviewed and quoted by leading news outlets including The New York Times, ABC News, Fox News, Harvard Business Review, USA Today, and Business News Daily.

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