No business can prosper without dedicated, motivated, and productive workers.

Since most people aren’t going to exhibit those attributes if they’re sick, stressed, or depressed, it’s important that companies actively support their employees’ physical and mental health. One excellent way to do that is by offering flexible work options.

The NHS Choices website highlights the value of flex in an article that discusses a study on the negative impacts on workers of long commutes.

“One way of increasing the time workers spend on health-promoting activities is to move towards a flexible home working culture, away from the nine to five,” the article says. “In recent years the number of organizations allowing employees to work from home has hugely increased, and it’s estimated this will be the norm for more than half the workforce by 2017. This trend needs to continue, says the report, as research shows it is beneficial for both the health and well-being of staff, as well as productivity.”

The NHS isn’t alone in making a strong business case for the health benefits of flexibility. On its website, 1MFWF supporter Mental Health America notes the negative impacts on people and businesses when workers aren’t healthy.

“In our rush to ‘get it all done’ at the office and at home, it’s easy to forget that as our stress levels spike, our productivity plummets,” the Mental Health America site says. “Stress can zap our concentration, make us irritable or depressed, and harm our personal and professional relationships. Over time, stress also weakens our immune systems, and makes us susceptible to a variety of ailments from colds to backaches to heart disease. …

“While we all need a certain amount of stress to spur us on and help us perform at our best, the key to managing stress lies in that one magic word: balance. Not only is achieving a healthy work-life balance an attainable goal, but workers and businesses alike see the rewards. When workers are balanced and happy, they are more productive, take fewer sick days, and are more likely to stay in their jobs.”

And how can a company help its workers find that balance? Both the anecdotal and academic evidence points to flexibility.

For example, The Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College points out several ways flexible work options can help people mentally and physically, including:

Reducing stress.
The Sloan Center website says that, according to research, employees who have work flexibility are more satisfied with their jobs and lives and have better work-life balance.

“A study of more than 19,000 employees at nine distinct companies … showed that stress and burnout was lower among workers engaged in all types of workplace flexibility arrangements,” the Sloan Center site says. “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.”

Reducing “negative spillover.”
The Sloan Center site says spillover “is a process by which attitudes and behavior carry over from one role to another. Spillover between work and family life can be regarded as negative (i.e., work-family conflict) or positive (work-family enhancement).”

While these two kinds of spillover often coexist to some extent, the Sloan Center says a study 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, it meant spillover from a worker’s personal life was less likely to hurt productivity. And for workers, it meant less negative spillover from work that cut the quality of personal and family life.

Improving overall well-being.
This manifests itself in better work-life balance, as well as improved physical and mental wellness. And it appears to be especially noteworthy when a worker has more choice or control.

“For example, a recent study of workers in extended-care facilities found that ’employees who worked for managers with low work-family openness and creativity were more likely to have elevated CVD (cardiovascular disease) risks based on both biomarker assessments and reports of doctor diagnoses. They also sleep almost half an hour less per night than employees with managers with high levels of openness and creativity in relation to work-family issues,'” the Sloan Center site says.

A Better Balance, a 1MFWF supporter, also provides substantial information that supports this point of view, noting that “employees who believe they have workplace flexibility lead healthier lifestyles, as demonstrated by their sleep habits, level of physical activity, and stress management.”

But A Better Balance takes this data a step further, pointing out that flexibility has health benefits for entire communities by preventing the spread of illness. If workers aren’t passing the latest bug among themselves and their families, they’ll have fewer sick days and higher productivity.

These studies and stories show that, on individual, corporate, and community levels, flexibility has positive effects on physical and mental health. Workers who are healthy and happy also are likely to be more productive and effective, meaning this business case proves flexible work options are a true win-win for both a company and its employees.

How has work flexibility improved your mental or physical health? What steps has your company taken to show concern for its workers’ well-being? Please share your ideas in the comments section.

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