Happier, healthier flexible workplaces

Dec 08 2011 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Flexible workplace initiatives aren't just window-dressing or an attractive employee benefit. Flexibility brings with it improvements in employees' health and well-being, reduces absenteeism rates and boosts employee commitment.

The latest evidence for the effectiveness of management that recognizes that it is results that matter, not when or where these results are achieved comes from University of Minnesota sociology professors, Erin Kelly and Phyllis Moen, who studied more than 600 employees of a white-collar organization before and after a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) initiative was implemented.

They examined changes in health-promoting behaviors and health outcomes among the employees participating in the initiative compared to those who did not participate.

ROWE, first introduced at the headquarters of US retail giant, Best Buy, in 2005, focuses on measurable results rather than worrying about when and where work is completed. Under ROWE, employees routinely change when and where they work based on their individual needs and job responsibilities without seeking permission from a manager or even notifying one.

"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," Professor Moen said.

"This has important policy implications, suggesting that initiatives creating broad access to time flexibility encourage employees to take better care of themselves."

According to the study, which appears in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, employees participating in the flexible workplace initiative reported getting almost an extra hour of sleep on nights before work. 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 initiative also 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.

And as a 2008 study by Wake Forest University School of Medicine found, better health management is far from being the only benefit of flexible working initiatives. Their results indicated that an increase in perceived flexibility was associated with a decrease in sickness absences and work-related impairment, as well as improved job commitment, strong indicators that flexible work arrangements can contribute to the bottom-line.