Does Flex Time Lead to Better Health?
A flexible schedule makes it easier to juggle job and family demands, but new research shows there’s an added benefit: improved health.
Researchers at Wake Forest University talked to 3,200 workers at a major pharmaceutical company about their health habits, quizzing executives, support staff and warehouse and production employees about sleep, exercise and the overall healthfulness of their lives. The employees also were asked whether their jobs provided the flexibility needed to meet work, personal and family commitments.
Workers who strongly agreed that they had job flexibility also were more likely to engage in healthful behaviors, the researchers report in the current issue of The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Employees with flexible schedules exercised more and attended more employer-sponsored health classes. They also were more likely than those with more regimented routines to describe themselves as living a healthful lifestyle. Surprisingly, workers who felt they had job flexibility also reported getting more sleep.
The study wasn’t designed to determine how job flexibility might contribute to longer sleep. But lead author Joseph G. Grzywacz, an associate professor of family and community medicine at the university, said that workers with flexible schedules may not be working as late as others, or they may be less stressed and sleeping better at night. Or, he said, it may be that these employees are able to structure their work lives in such a way that sleep time is protected.
The researchers also checked in with the workers a year after the first survey. They found that if an employee’s job flexibility improved over the year, so did healthy habits. When flexibility grew, workers reported better sleep, attended more health classes and were more likely to describe themselves as having a healthful lifestyle. Yet improving a worker’s schedule didn’t automatically lead to more exercise, the study showed. It may be that a year was just too soon to see the full effect of improved flexibility.
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