Study: Flexible working can lower heart health risk

Study: Flexible working can lower heart health risk

Flexible working can lower employees’ risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a study in the US.

Research led by the Harvard Chan School of Public Health and Penn State University found cardiovascular disease risk scores improved among employees at a higher risk of heart health issues when organisations implemented improvements to employees’ work-life balance.

However, flexible working interventions did not have a significant effect on the overall heart health of the workforce.

Supervisors in the ‘experimental’ group were encouraged to show support for employees’ personal and family lives alongside job performance. They also attended training sessions to identify new ways to increase workers’ control over their schedules and tasks.

The 1,528 employees across the experimental and control groups had their systolic blood pressure, body mass index, glycated hemoglobin, smoking status, HDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol recorded at the beginning of the study and again 12 months later. The researchers used this information to calculate a cardiometabolic risk score for each employee.

Employees older than 45 with a higher baseline cardiometabolic risk score were more likely to see a reduction than younger colleagues.

Co-lead author Orfeu Buxton, professor of biobehavioral health and director of the Sleep, Health & Society Collaboratory at Penn State, said: “Now we know such changes can improve employee health and should be more broadly implemented.”

Ben Stocken, founder and managing director of team performance consultancy West Peak, commented: “We’ve known for a long time that micromanaging employees is a terrible way to get the best out of a team, but this study highlights more serious consequences of the problem.

“With more employees working away from the office since the pandemic, some bosses have slipped into the habit of micromanaging employees to reassure themselves that work is being done.

“It’s important to recognise that micromanaging can often have a negative impact on the supervisor themselves, as they can quickly become stressed and overwhelmed by monitoring employees’ low-level tasks. Leaders who find themselves resorting to micromanagement – or what they see as ‘hero mode’ – need to learn new habits and trust their team to deliver on the work they’ve been trusted with.”

Employees with a higher baseline cardiometabolic risk, particularly older workers, reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease by the equivalent of five to 10 years of age-related cardiometabolic changes, the study published in the  American Journal of Public Health found.

“When stressful workplace conditions and work-family conflict were mitigated, we saw a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease among more vulnerable employees, without any negative impact on their productivity,” said co-lead author Lisa Berkman, professor of public policy and of epidemiology at Harvard Chan School and director of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies.

“These findings could be particularly consequential for low- and middle-wage workers who traditionally have less control over their schedules and job demands and are subject to greater health inequities.”

The study involved an IT company and a care provider. Some of their sites were encouraged to promote work-life balance, while others were not.

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