If companies provide workplace flexibility and if employees perceive that flexibility as real, then healthier lifestyle habits are put into action by those employees, according to new research from Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina, USA (Grzywacz J et al, 2007).
Lead author Joseph Grzywacz PhD explained that that while workplace flexibility is widely believed to be an essential element of effective worksite health promotion programmes, there has been little systemic research in support of this belief. Thus the goal of the study was to improve ‘understanding of the potential effect of workplace flexibility on worker lifestyle habits’.
Focusing on the frequency of physical activity, engagement in stress management programmes, participation in health education activities, healthful sleep habits and self-appraised overall lifestyle, on the whole the results showed that nearly all the positive health behaviours examined were associated with perceived flexibility.
A further study, by Information Week Research, has found that for workers job challenge is the only issue that outranks flexibility in importance. So you have the challenge part of the job set; what about flexibility?
Flexible work hours enable you to expand your lifestyle outside of the practice, which will have an positive impact on your general well-being and more specifically your stress levels. It can also improve the way you do you job – being flexible can help workers achieve the business’s goals, which is especially important given the current work climate where employers are asking more of their employees than ever before.
What constitutes flexibility?
The are six basic areas to consider when putting together a flexible workplace policy:
1. Reduced work hours
2. Reduced work days
3. Working part-time
4. Working non-traditional hours
6. Summer leave (if, for example, someone has worked in your practice for 10 years or more and needs an extended period of leave to rest and recharge).
It is best to have broad flexibility policies and then to negotiate with employees on a one-to-one basis to ascertain what might work for a particular role. However, as a rule of thumb, you can check the scope of your ability to be flexible by focusing on the requirements of the job, and anything that is not a requirement can be deemed to be flexible.
For example, if you or a colleague have children you may choose to work around their routine, working, say, 9am to 3pm and then 6pm to 8pm. This gives you time to see them after school and give them supper before finishing up your working day. And as an added bonus, it can be a great marketing tool if you choose to work any evenings, very early in the morning or at the weekend.
Off the treadmill
Off the treadmill (2003) research from the Work Life Balance Network (WLBN) shows that flexible working arrangements generated a number of benefits, including:
• Employee satisfaction: +85%
• Attracting/retaining employees: +74%
• Productivity: +58%
• Labour turnover: -55%
• Absenteeism: -50%
• Business results: +48%.
Achieving a work/life balance is an issue that affects all workers, not just working parents. It is rarely the case nowadays that the man in a family is considered the ‘main breadwinner’, but rather there is a move towards ‘dual responsibility’. Flexible working arrangements are now a key element of work reflecting social change, and its importance can only increase in the current work-oriented climate.
Grzywacz J et al (2007) The effects of workplace flexibility on health behaviours: a cross-sectional and longitudinal analysis. Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine 49(12): 1302-1309
Information Week Research (2000) National IT salary survey of 22,067 IT professionals