MONEY
06/21/2018 05:45 am ET

Boomers Have Millennials To Thank For The Amazing Perk Of Telecommuting

But surprisingly, younger people don't use it as much themselves.
PJB via Getty Images

Ann Brenoff’s “On The Fly” is a column about navigating growing older ― and a few other things.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank millennials for what is without question the greatest workplace benefit I’ve ever had, with the exception of the free snacks and cans of LaCroix that my company is now, sadly, threatening to stop providing.

What is this game-changing benefit that actually costs employers nothing yet boosts morale into the stratosphere and has kept me working far longer than any dinosaur who previously roamed the Earth? It’s the ability to work from home.

Do not underestimate the joy of telecommuting and getting to wear to work the torn T-shirt you just slept in. And for that, I lavish my unfaltering praise and gratitude on millennials. 

Yet while most experts credit the telecommuting option to millennials and their push for greater work-life balance, it’s actually older employees who work from home the most. Go figure.

The State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce,” a report by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics, found that the average telecommuter is older than the average employee. Half have celebrated their 45th birthday or beyond.

And the older we are, the more likely we are to work remotely. Employees who are 65 or older are 1.7 times more likely to telecommute than the average employee. Those 55 to 64 years old are 1.2 times more likely. And those 35 to 54 years old are 1.1 times more likely. (The study analyzed data from the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics and did not include the self-employed.)

So why is it that boomers, ages 54 to 72, are the most likely to embrace something that millennials started? The legendary Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” And at age 68, that certainly describes my situation.

Baby boomers generally have far less to prove, may be less focused on career advancement and don’t see any great benefit to putting in more face time than necessary ― especially if it means they have to sit in rush-hour traffic or wear uncomfortable shoes to get there. 

Millennials, on the other hand, have generally not yet reached the highest rungs of their career ladders. They’re eager to make sure that their bosses know and value them and that opportunities don’t pass them by just because they aren’t seen regularly in the office. Perhaps they worry that if they’re out of sight, they will be out of mind come promotion time. It’s a pity, actually. 

The FlexJobs report and other studies suggest that workers of all ages get more done when they work from home. A large Stanford University study found that telecommuters tended to work a full shift plus some and that they took shorter breaks, had fewer sick days and overall took less time off. 

I can see why. Working from home leaves me less stressed and more relaxed. On nice days, I move my laptop outside to my front deck, staring at the kind of view you pay to see on vacation. I can toss a load of laundry in the washer, sign for packages and let the dogs out. I am home for the plumber and don’t freak out when the cable guy says he’ll be there between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. (as if that’s useful information). And yet in truth, I have no distractions to speak of. 

I don’t get interrupted by anyone stopping by my desk to gossip or inviting me to the office kitchen to partake of cupcakes in honor of someone’s birthday. I am never late for work because of traffic jams and never need to leave early to get home for something because I’m already there. Every day is bring-your-kids-to-work day and mine is a dog-friendly office, but neither the dogs or the kids are very excited by my presence anymore.

In general, I find it much easier to concentrate and write at home. Plus, I save money on gas, create a smaller carbon footprint by keeping off California’s clogged freeways and save a bundle on car insurance by reducing the annual miles I drive. 

Here’s another fun fact about those of us who work from home: We tend to stay put, professionally. Employee turnover decreased by 50 percent among those who telecommute, the Stanford University study found.

To be fair, telecommuting isn’t for everyone. More than half of the original Stanford study group changed their minds about how great it was to work from home full-time after they had done so for a while. They said they just felt too isolated.

I’m thinking maybe they just missed the free LaCroix.

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