What are the health benefits of flexible working?

Published: 1 May 2015

Woman working on her laptop.In an age where technology allows us to access files remotely and engage in meetings without actually being present, flexible working is on the rise. There are pros and cons of allowing your employees to work from home, with the crux of the matter lying in how the flexible working is managed. Whilst stress levels can be decreased, so can productivity without the engagement of fellow colleagues in a place of work. Therefore, it's important to ensure that any flexible working is organised in such a way that allows levels of motivation to be maintained, whilst honing in on the positive effects of working remotely. And it would seem that these positive effects are bountiful, particularly when it comes to health. If you are thinking of adding flexible working into your employee benefits, read on to find out how it could keep your work force fit and well.

Does flexible working really decrease stress?

Most people that work are familiar with burning the candle at both ends. It's tricky to do all of the important tasks we face outside of work when our nine-five is taken up in the office. A routine appointment at the doctors, for example, is near impossible with their opening hours clashing with the working day. So as an employer, what can you do to help? Allowing your staff the option to work flexibly could significantly decrease their day-to-day stresses. A study by the Kenexa High Performance Institute (KHPI) tells us that, in 2011 work/life balance (WLB) was one of the, "top three drivers of employee engagement." The report then goes on to say that, "regarding WLB, leaders may institute a more flexible work schedule to allow employees the latitude needed to better cope with competing home and work demands."1

Contributing factors to this increased ability to cope could include things such as a reduced commute time, the ability to spend more time with the family (especially where parents are concerned), and reduced pressure on work completion with more flexible hours at hand.

So what's it got to do with physical health?

One strong argument for flexible working is the correlation between stress and physical health. It's no secret that when we humans are going through a tough time, whether that's work related or personal, our bodies show it externally. From our heart racing when we're anxious to our stomach churning when we've got an important presentation to deliver, all of us will at some point have experienced a physical reaction to stress.

A study by the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences tells us that, "stress, hostility, depression, social support, and socioeconomic status," may play a direct role in, "organic coronary artery disease (CAD) pathology."2 Although dramatic, there are studies to suggest that the fight or flight response we experience when stressed can lead to tissue damage and disease over a prolonged period of time.3.

Managing flexible working

It seems, then, that flexible working really can have an impact on the physical health of employees. Whether decreasing a staff member's stress levels stops them from being run down or prevents them from facing something more serious, the benefits are undeniable. This is particularly the case for those with heavy commitments outside of work, such as employees that fulfil the role of a carer or parent.

However, as an employer it's important to implement this kind of working with care. Flexible hours and working from home are great benefits for employees, but it's crucial to make sure that this allowance works in your favour too. Failure to do so could lead to an empty office and disengaged employees. To counteract this, make sure to train managers in 'remote management', so as to keep those working away from the office highly motivated and productive.

Flexible working should be treated as a way to enhance a business, not detract from it. It should be used as a tool to help employees to cope both physically and mentally with their personal and professional lives, ultimately leading to their higher performance. With efficient management and an open mind, you could be on your way to a much more energetic and, what's more, healthier workforce.

Sources

1. http://www.hreonline.com/pdfs/02012012Extra_KenexaReport.pdf 
2. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress.aspx
3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2568977/

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