How Flexible Working Supports Employee Health & Wellbeing
Supporting flexible working and employee wellness are two key employer trends in Ireland in 2018. Moreover, they’re usually high on the list of any discussion of the ‘future of work.’ But how exactly are they interrelated?
In this article, I want to find out how flexible working benefits the health and well-being of employees. We’ll examine 3 key ways it benefits employee well-being and discuss some of the flexible arrangements that can make a difference.
How Does Flexible Working Support Employee Wellness?
Better work-life balance for employees juggling too many commitments
Liberating employees from the restrictions of 9-5 in situ working can have a profound impact on an employee’s work-life balance. It helps employees make more effective use of their time, thereby reducing homelife pressures and providing greater convenience to pursue wellness goals.
Improved physical and mental health
Work-life balance helps to reduce employee stress, prevent burnout and improve physical health and well-being.
A study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour in 2011 found that people who were able to adjust their work schedule to accommodate personal needs reported getting one or more additional hours of sleep each night. And this shouldn’t be underestimated. Sleep deprivation was revealed by a recent Irish Times article to be a silent epidemic in Ireland. The science is there to prove that the shorter our sleep, the shorter our life-span. Sleep expert Dr. Maura Finn said that Ireland’s sleep deprivation is now at a near crisis level, with 30-40% of people getting less sleep than they need. One hour extra would therefore be a welcome improvement for many.
The study also found that employees who had some control over their working hours felt less obligated to go to work sick and were more likely to visit a doctor. This has two-fold implications. Firstly, flexible working can reduce the impact of ‘presenteeism’ in the workplace. Secondly, employees have greater ease of opportunity to manage medical appointments. This can help with faster recoveries, but also with prevention, by cashing potentially more serious health problems before they escalate.
Overall, flexible scheduling allowed people to feel more well rested, healthier and under less stress.
Happy, healthy workers will be more productive. Allowing employees to work at the times at which they’re most alert and productive, rather than at pre-determined times will make a difference to their output. For some individuals, their best work is done at the crack of dawn. Others are night owls. In either case, flexibility to work at their optimum times, without impacting on other team members, will boost performance.
Workplace productivity expert Moira Dunne tells us that being productive is in itself one way to reduce work-related stress.
“Being productive gives employees a sense of achievement and accomplishment. There is a satisfaction that comes with being able to make a plan and stick to it. And that satisfaction allows employees to switch off after work which in turn allows them to relax and refresh.”
What Flexible Working Arrangements Can Employers Provide?
Flexitime can help employees to adapt their working day to make more efficient use of their time.
- The classic case here is avoiding unnecessary commute times by allowing employees to start the day earlier or later than the rush hour timezone.
- Employees, particularly those commuting on regional public transport, can face large gaps between when they arrive or leave and their set timetable. Allowing more freedom around start and finish times gives them more time for home life and to pursue wellness goals.
- This flexibility is also really useful for employees who need to drop or collect children from school and childcare.
- Being able to plan wellness activities such as gym, yoga or other exercises before, after or during work is an incentive for employees to keep active, but it’s all about convenience. If we can time our wellness activities to fit smoothly around our work schedules, we’re far more likely to keep them up. So, if an employee wants to take part in a weekly pilates class that starts beside the office at 7 PM, the ability to clock hours right up to 7 PM and not have to wait around to take the class will help them seal their work and wellness schedules together for mutual convenience.
- Building extra hours via flexitime allows employees to take time off midweek for personal reasons, appointments, family commitments and so on.
- A compressed working week (e.g. building extra hours each day in order to take every second Friday off) is becoming popular. This can help to incentivise employees with the promise of extended time off, blocked time to take-part in travel/trip based activities.
- Compressed working also gives employees the freedom to visit family for extended periods, which can be particularly valuable for migrant workers who wish to spend more time in their home countries.
Remote/Alternative Working Arrangements
Working from home, or from co-working offices and decentralised hubs is a great way to engage a more diverse workforce and cast the talent net further.
- Working from home can help employees be more productive by providing an uninterrupted space. Many people thrive off the interaction and collaboration that takes place in an office environment, but there are always tasks that need individual concentration. Working one day remotely can help people achieve this, leaving the rest of the week for teamwork.
- Working remotely allows employees to replace commute time with lifestyle time.
- It allows family and personal flexibility in many of the ways mentioned above.
- Employees come to work when they’re unwell because they don’t want to appear uncommitted and want to get their work done. For some, the idea of not being able to go into work and the thought of mounting workload in their absence is stressful. The ability to work from home prevents employees coming into work when sick and infectious, even if they feel ok to work.
- Likewise, employees can be forced to stay at home to tend sick children or dependents and can stress about missing work and the toll this takes on their colleagues. Supporting remote working means that employees in this situation can – should they be able and wish to do so – complete some of their work duties at home.
- The ability to work remotely enables employees to continue with their responsibilities while travelling should they wish. One benefit here is that employees can bridge travel plans or time off with remote working days in order to extend overseas stays.
What’s Good For The Employee Is Good For The Employer
Flexible working gives employees a better work-life balance, with the result for the individual being less stress, improved health and a generally happier work arrangement. Employers can reap the rewards in turn by enjoying reciprocal benefits.
An online consultation conducted by Employment and Social Development Canada in September 2016 found that flex hours resulted in lower rates of absenteeism, greater employee job satisfaction and retention, a more diverse and engaged workforce, and increased participation from people with sickness or disability.
Aside from employers actually wanting their employees to be happy, any time we talk about increased productivity there’s also room for the economic argument of increased profit for employers.
Potential Benefits of Flexible Working to the Employer:
- Reduced absenteeism
- Reduced presenteeism
- Greater diversity
- Increased performance and productivity
- Increased job satisfaction and employer loyalty
- Increased employee retention
Flexible working may seem like a bit of a win-win. Certainly this article has shown that working with individuals to adapt work arrangements to fit better with personal commitments and lifestyle goals improves their health and wellbeing. However, it would be one-sided not to address the challenges that implementing flexible working practices holds for employers.
Employees are not in a vacuum where they’re free to do whatever they want. The needs of a team, ongoing communication and contribution need to be balanced. Many work environments require employees to man work stations, be available during certain hours and work to project timelines.
The idea is to find flexible arrangements that work for both the nature of work at hand and the employee, to get the right balance between the job needs and the individual. So, flexibility should come from both ends.
When they work well, flexible working arrangements can be mutually beneficial for employee wellness and the productivity and innovation of an organisation. But there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.
Flexible working arrangements are the future for many companies, but this doesn’t mean they have to take one great leap of faith. Small steps count. And the first step might simply be getting the conversation started.
Guest Blogger Bio:
Sinead Gillett is a Director of The Wellness Crew.
The Wellness Crew are here to steer your employee wellness programme in the right direction. We provide expert HR advice on all aspects of corporate wellness provision and offer a one-stop shop for booking corporate wellness services across 4 key pillars: Food, Fit, Mind & Money.
We’ll curate the right employee wellness programme for your staff and deliver your workplace wellbeing events with our exclusive crew of wellness coaches and specialists. TheWellnessCrew.ie