Flexible Work Schedules Promote Better Health, Study Says

Researchers based their findings on data from surveys of more than 600 employees and company records from Best Buy before and after the implementation of a “Results Only Work Environment” (ROWE) workplace initiative.

New research from the University of Minnesota finds that a workplace environment that allows employees to change when and where they work based on their individual needs and job responsibilities may promote better health.

Led by University of Minnesota sociology professors Erin Kelly and Phyllis Moen, the study appears in the December issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

Kelly and Moen based their findings on data from surveys of more than 600 employees and company records from Best Buy before and after the implementation of a “Results Only Work Environment” (ROWE) workplace initiative. Best Buy introduced the ROWE initiative at its Richfield, Minn., headquarters in 2005.

ROWE redirected the focus of employees and managers toward measurable results and away from a set work schedule and location. Employees could routinely change when and where they worked without seeking permission from a manager or even notifying one. Moen and Kelly examined whether the initiative affected work-family conflict, whether schedule control played a role in these effects, and whether work demands (including long hours) moderated the initiative’s effects on work-family outcomes.

“With these changes in the workplace, employees gained control over the time and timing of their work in ways that benefitted them and, by extension, their families and communities,” Kelly said.

“It is feasible to broaden access to schedule control and thereby relieve work-family conflicts and improve work-family fit for more workers,” Moen said.

The researchers said that ROWE reduced turnover by 45 percent—after controlling for multiple factors like job level, organizational tenure, job satisfaction, income adequacy, job security, and other turnover intentions. Specifically, six percent of ROWE participants left the company during the eight- month study period while 11 percent of the comparison group left.

“By showing that a policy initiative like ROWE can reduce turnover, this research moves the ‘opting out’ argument—whether one chooses family over work—from a private issue to an issue of how employers can change the workplace to better meet the needs of employees,” Moen said.

Additional findings:

  • Workers reported getting 52 extra minutes of sleep on nights before work.
  • Workers were less likely to feel obligated to work when sick and more likely to go to a doctor when necessary, even when busy.
  • Participants reported an increased sense of schedule control and a reduction in work-family conflict which, in turn, improved their sleep quality, energy levels, self-reported health, and sense of personal mastery while decreasing their emotional exhaustion and psychological distress.

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