Flexible work big boost for health, study finds

By Jasminee Sahoye

HealthGraphicResearch shows that flexible work arrangements may reduce stress because employees working flexibly are more satisfied with their jobs, more satisfied with their lives and experience better work-family balance.

Overall, employees who have a high work-life fit fare much better than employees who have moderate or low levels of work-life fit. They are more highly engaged and less likely to look for a new job in the next year and they enjoy better overall health, better mental health and lower levels of stress.

And the latest research by global workspace provider Regus found that 76% of Canadians have seen a greater increase in flexible working compared to five years ago, with more and more people opting for a more flexible work environment.

“This is higher than the global average of 70%, however, lower than the U.S. workforce with 80% of respondents saying they have seen an increase in remote workers in their workplace,” it states.

The report surveyed 22,000 workers across more than 100 countries.

The survey found that company size and industry plays a major role in whether Canadian employees have the opportunity to work remotely and flexibly. It also found “small businesses with 0-49 employees are the most likely to have remote workers with 81% noticing an increase in the past five years;  mid-sized companies (50-250 employees) are less likely to work outside of the office with 73% saying they saw an increase and companies with 250+ employees are least likely at 69%.”

And the Sloan Centre on Aging and Work at Boston College in a study of more than 19,000 employees at nine distinct companies (in the pharmaceutical, technical, manufacturing, financial, and professional services sectors and in a university) showed that stress and burnout was lower among workers engaged in all types of workplace flexibility arrangements.

Similarly, a study of employees in a large multinational company found that greater levels of flexibility were associated with better health: that is, with less self-reported stress and strain and better physical health.

Wayne Berger, VP, Regus Canada,0 says “as more forward-thinking companies adapt to a new way of working, the remote worker is becoming much more popular when compared to the workforce five years ago. We are seeing more and more companies allowing their employees to work flexibly, however there’s still the challenge of finding the right place to work flexibly.”

Having the option to work from different locations is enormously beneficial for many companies but the challenge is in finding the right environment outside of the office to allow people to remain just as, if not more so, productive, the Regus study adds.

Meanwhile, a National Study of the Changing Workforce conducted by the Families and Work Institute found that employees in more flexible workplaces exhibited less negative spillover between work and family life. This was found to have benefits for both employers and employees.

For employers: less negative spillover from life off the job to work time that impairs productivity.

For employees: less negative spillover from work to life off the job that reduces the quality of personal and family life.

A meta-analysis of 60 published studies in the United States and Canada showed that employees who have higher job involvement or job stress or spend more time at work have more work interference with their family life than family interference with their work. However, employees who had more schedule flexibility at work experienced less spillover of work stress into the home.

“Work-family balance has two dimensions: work interference with family and family interference with work. Characteristics of the job and the workplace can have a positive or negative effect on family life, while aspects of an employee’s family situation can affect the employee’s performance and attitudes toward work” a study found.

And a more recent study of the effects of the availability of schedule flexibility at work on the work-to-family interface, found that flexible schedules reduced work-family conflict for women, but not for men.

So, in terms of the Regus research, where should you find the remote worker in 2015?

Scoring very low for productivity at just 12% are coffee shops. With their associated issues of lack of privacy, unreliable Internet connection, and background noise, Canadian professionals do not find the coffee shop to be the best place for the remote worker.

Libraries and hotel lounges scored lowest for productivity at 7%; professional group or association lounges score surprisingly low at 15%, suggesting these locations are better for networking than for getting work done.

Forty-one per cent of Canadian respondents say working from home is good for productivity; business centres score highest with 53% believing these are a safe haven for productivity when working outside the office.