Work settings that allow flexibility in where and when an individual works can improve productivity, enhance sleep and contribute to overall better health, according to a new study.
The discovery is another blow to the old belief that productivity is tied to an individual being on-site for a strict 40 hours — and, never mind if they are unhappy or have poor health habits.
University of Minnesota sociologists Drs. Erin Kelly and Phyllis Moen discussed their findings in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
“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.”
Researchers analyzed data collected from 608 employees of a white-collar organization before and after a flexible workplace initiative was implemented.
Investigators examined changes in health-promoting behaviors and health outcomes among the employees participating in the initiative compared to those who did not participate.
Introduced at the Best Buy headquarters in Richfield, Minn. in 2005, the workplace initiative—dubbed the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE)—redirected the focus of employees and managers towards measurable results and away from when and where work is completed.
Under ROWE, 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.
Among the key findings:
- Employees participating in the flexible workplace initiative reported getting almost an extra hour (52 minutes) of sleep on nights before work;
- Employees participating in the flexible workplace initiative managed their health differently: They were less likely to feel obligated to work when sick and more likely to go to a doctor when necessary, even when busy;
- The flexible workplace initiative increased employees’ sense of schedule control and reduced their work-family conflict which, in turn, improved their sleep quality, energy levels, self-reported health, and sense of personal mastery while decreasing employees’ emotional exhaustion and psychological distress.
“Narrower flexibility policies allow some “accommodations” for family needs, but are less likely to promote employee health and well-being or to be available to all employees,” said Kelly.