By JiJi Russell
Employers who value loyal, happy, and productive workers cannot ignore the rapidly changing demographics and needs of our workforce. Many workers these days manage more than “just” a job and a family. They might serve as caregivers for an elder family member; they might be working beyond retirement age; or they might be single dads, to name a few circumstances. Today’s workers most likely do not look the same as their own parents did.
Research shows that employees who enjoy workplace flexibility, which encompasses a host of options that could include scheduling flexibility and/or telecommuting, also enjoy greater health and wellness.
The Society of Human Resource Professionals (SHRM), a national industry authority on people management issues of our times, works diligently to advocate for “workflex,” and cites comprehensive research that supports flexibility both from an employee perspective and as a sound bottom-line strategy for organizations.
Flexible and Favorable
Lisa Horn, who directs SHRM’s workplace flexibility initiative, “When Work Works,” points unequivocally to “a direct link between flex and better employee health.” Horn and her colleagues highlight the Families and Work Institute’s 2014 National Study of Employers (NSE) as “the most comprehensive and far-reaching study of the practices, policies, programs and benefits provided by U.S. employers to enhance organizational and employee success by addressing the changing realities of today’s economy, workforce and workplace.”
According to Horn and her SHRM colleagues, findings from the NSE show that employees in more effective and flexible workplaces are more likely than other employees to have:
• greater engagement in their jobs;
• higher levels of job satisfaction;
• stronger intentions to remain with their employers;
• less negative and stressful spillover from job to home;
• less negative spillover from home to job; and
• better mental health.
Workflex as a practice covers a broad range of employee-centric flexibility options that deviate from the standard 9–5 work schedule. Such options could include compressed work weeks; alternative start and stop times; self-scheduling, and so forth.
Flexibility for one organization might look quite different from that of another. Think of manufacturing versus online education. SHRM leaders note that specific flexibility options need to suit the industry and the organization, but that no industry or organization is without its own set of possibilities for flexibility.
Less Stress, Greater Health
The 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce underlined the link between flexibility and health and well-being by showing that employees in more effective and flexible workplaces are more likely than other employees to indicate:
• being in excellent overall physical health;
• a low frequency of minor health problems and sleep problems;
• no indicators of depression; and,
• a low general stress level.
Horn also referenced a Staples survey from 2011 showing that those employees who telecommuted at least one day a week remotely realized 25 percent reduction in stress level, reported being happier, felt more loyal, and noted other positive indicators. These findings might help to address a significant health issue of our times.
“Stress is a major precursor to more serious health conditions that employers care a great deal about,” Horn said.
For those workers who are interested in workflex, Horn has this advice: “Present your request for flexibility, which will help you better navigate your work life, in a way that shows your manager or supervisor that the work will still get done. Workers need to take the business needs into account as well.” In the end, Horn says, “For flex to be successful, it has to work for both employee and employer.”
JiJi Russell, a yoga instructor and Integrative Nutrition health coach, manages the corporate wellness program for American Public University System in Charles Town, W.Va. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.