Flexibility at Work Might Help Improve Employee Health, Study Shows

Dec. 14, 2011
A new study suggests that employees in flexible work environments get more sleep, have higher energy levels, are less likely to come to work sick and generally boast improved health and well-being.

University of Minnesota sociology professors Erin Kelly and Phyllis Moen studied longitudinal data collected from 608 employees at the Best Buy headquarters in Richfield, Minn., in 2005, before and after a flexible workplace initiative was implemented.

The Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) initiative redirected the focus of employees and managers towards measurable results and away from when and where work is completed. Employees were allowed to routinely change when and where they worked based on their individual needs and job responsibilities without seeking permission from a manager or even notifying one.

Researchers found that employees participating in the flexible workplace initiative:

· Reported getting 52 extra minutes of sleep on nights before work;
· Were less likely to feel obligated to work when sick and more likely to go to a doctor when necessary, even when busy;
· Reported an increased sense of schedule control and a reduction in work-family conflict which, in turn, improved their sleep quality, energy levels, self-reported health and sense of personal mastery while decreasing their emotional exhaustion and psychological distress.

"Our study shows that moving from viewing time at the office as a sign of productivity, to emphasizing actual results can create a work environment that fosters healthy behavior and well-being," said Moen. "This has important policy implications, suggesting that initiatives creating broad access to time flexibility encourage employees to take better care of themselves."

The study appears in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

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