Proof that more freedom makes for more productive employees

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Best Buy was one of the first Fortune 500s to create a flexible work-schedule program for its corporate employees. Tech companies have been doing this for a while, and for good reason: these programs work.

Researchers led by Phyllis Moen of the University of Minnesota recently evaluated Best Buy’s program, launched in 2006 and inspired by Results-Only Work Environment, and found that it improved employee health, reducing “emotional exhaustion, psychological distress, and work-family conflict.”

They put their findings together in a study, “Changing Work, Changing Health: Can Real Work-Time Flexibility Promote Health Behaviors and Well-Being?” which is featured in this month’s Journal of Health and Social Behavior (via The Atlantic). Half of the study participants took part in the flex program. Using a structural equation model (SEM), the researchers found that:

* Those who didn’t have as much control over their schedules were more stressed. Which makes sense, because when you have more control over your situation, you have a greater sense of power and freedom. “Scholars have empirically linked [lack of control] to exhaustion and depressive symptoms, blood pressure and mood, heart disease, mental and physical health, and work-family conflict,” according to the study. On the flip side:

“Corporate policies and practices offering employees greater schedule control, that is, the ability to decide when and where they do their jobs, may be especially important for the health behavior and well-being of contemporary employees, given the increasing time pressures, time speed-ups, and time conflicts most are experiencing.”


* Employees that had more control over their schedules were healthier overall. According to the study:

“Participating in the ROWE initiative directly increases employees’ health-related behaviors of sleep and exercise, as well as the likelihood that employees will not go to the workplace when sick and will see a doctor when sick.”

The 300 people involved in Best Buy’s flex program got on average 30 more minutes of sleep every night, and improved their health over a six-month period. They also had less “work-family conflict,” which arises when there’s a work “spillover” effect. Those who didn’t have a flex schedule were at a higher risk for “unhealthy eating habits, obesity, elevated cholesterol levels, and hypertension.”

It’s also worth noting that 41% of the participants were working more than 50 hours per week, had an average age of 32 during the time fo the study, and 48% were women. Most were married.

Flexible schedules won’t work in every office environment, and there’s certainly value to face time. And of course, make sure you fully trust any employee you let work flexible hours — because that’s the basis of a successful program.

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