In addition to physical risks, researchers from Durham University in England noted that workplaces can pose a threat to health due to factors such as high workloads, time pressures, lack of control, and limited social interaction with others. Stress, in turn, can contribute to conditions like heart disease, depression and anxiety.
However, according to the report, greater flexibility can mitigate some of these risks and actually improve the health of employees. Researchers found that more flexibility in the workplace was associated with lower stress and decreased blood pressure in employees.
For the systematic review, researchers examined 10 studies -- five of which examined workplaces that gave workers flexibility over their schedules in areas such as shift work and flextime. One study looked at how overtime affected employees, two examined the effects of abrupt and gradual retirement, one examined forced part-time unemployment, and one looked at fixed-term contracts.
Clare Bambra, coauthor of the review, said that given the absence of ill health effects associated with employee-controlled flexibility and the evidence of some positive improvements in some health outcomes, more flexibility in work schedules "has the potential to promote healthier workplaces and improve work practices."
Ron Goetzel, director of Emory University's Institute for Health and Productivity Studies, said the review highlights the fact that there is relatively little research into flexible work schedules. The research that has occurred, he said, suggests "the more you feel in control over your work, over the schedule and the demands and timetable and so forth, the healthier you'll be."
Of course, high amounts of flexibility are not always feasible on the job, said Goetzel, who evaluated the report as part of the peer-review process. An assembly line worker, for instance, might not be able to take a break and walk around whenever he feels like it.
"It's a negotiation, like anything else," he said.
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March 25, 2010
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