Flexible work schedule may foster healthy habits
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People who feel they have flexibility in their job schedules tend to have a healthier lifestyle than those with less workplace freedom, new study results suggest. Researchers found that among nearly 3,200 U.S.-based employees of a large pharmaceutical company, those who felt they had the most workplace flexibility were more likely to report healthy habits such as exercising regularly and getting adequate sleep.
The study looked at workers' perceptions of on-the-job flexibility, but not which specific workplace measures made them feel that way. The company where they worked offers employees alternative work schedules when possible; some employees can work at home, for example, while others can "job share" or have freedom in arranging their work hours.
The findings, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, suggest that such flexibility not only gives employees some freedom, but may also help them stay healthy.
For years, it's been assumed that workplace flexibility is probably a good thing for employees' well-being, according to Dr. Joseph G. Grzywacz of Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
This study now offers evidence to back that up, he told Reuters Health.
The study included 3,193 subjects, about 35 percent of employees of a multinational pharmaceutical company, ranging from executives to administrative staff to production and warehouse workers. To gauge workers' perceptions of job flexibility, the researchers asked them if they had enough flexibility to manage their work and personal lives.
Employees were also surveyed about several lifestyle habits -- including their exercise levels, sleep routines and whether they participated in their company's stress-management activities.
In general, the researchers found, workers who felt they had more flexibility were more likely to report healthy habits.
It's not clear why this is, according to Grzywacz. "My hunch," he said, "is that they may be able to structure their days to fit in things like exercise."
Grzywacz noted that a time-strapped parent who is "trying to squeeze everything in," for example, may well be tempted to pick up fast food rather than cook a meal, or spend the night on the couch rather than on a treadmill.
If flexible schedules do allow for healthier lifestyles, this should matter to employers, according to Grzywacz. After all, he said, healthy employees are more productive and cost employers in terms of healthcare.
SOURCE: The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, December 11, 2007.