The Grapevine

Work Schedule's Reflection On Health: Flexible Work Hours Keep Employees Happy And Healthy

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Employees who make their own schedule get better sleep. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Following a work schedule outside of the normal 9-to-5 business day, also known as shift work, can create a poor dynamic between sleep and work production. Not enough hours of sleeps or poor quality of sleep often lead to poor concentration, absenteeism, accidents, injuries, and fatalities. A recent study published in the journal of the National Sleep Foundation, Sleep Health, has revealed that employees who have the opportunity to control their own work schedule report getting more hours of sleep and a better quality of sleep.

"In the absence of sufficient sleep, we are not as attentive or alert, we process information more slowly, miss or misinterpret social and emotional cues, and decision-making is impaired," Orfeu M. Buxton, associate professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State, said in a statement. "For example, we may misjudge risks by undervaluing negative consequences and overvaluing potential rewards."

Buxton and his colleagues gathered data using the Work, Family, and Health Network study, which included both employees and their supervisors from an information technology company. A total of 474 employees helped determine if a workplace intervention that increased family-supportive supervision and gave employees control over the hours they worked helped improve sleep quantity and quality. The research team collected data and conducted interviews three times throughout the study, including just before the workplace intervention started, six months after it started, and a year after it started.

A year after the workplace intervention started employees who planned their own work schedule gained an average of eight minutes more sleep each night, tantamount to around an hour more sleep each week. After interviewing employees who had the opportunity to control their work schedule, researchers found their perception of how sufficiently they slept also improved.

Workplace interventions like the one covered in this study are designed to reduce conflict between an employee’s work and personal life. Employees are told to decide on when or where they work, and supervisors are tasked with supporting their employees' personal lives.

"We showed that an intervention focused on changing the workplace culture could increase the measured amount of sleep employees obtain, as well as their perception that their sleep was more sufficient," Buxton explained.

Healthy People 2020 is a federal initiative aimed toward improving the health of the United States by setting up national objectives and monitoring progress. One of the top goals for Healthy People 2020 is improving adequate sleep within the population. A 2012 survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 30 percent of adults in the U.S. admit that they do not get a sufficient amount of sleep regularly.

"Work can be a calling and inspirational, as well as a paycheck, but work should not be detrimental to health," Buxton added. "It is possible to mitigate some of the deleterious effects of work by reducing work-family conflict and improving sleep."

According to the CDC, insufficient sleep has been linked to various chronic diseases, including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and depression. Self-reported sleep-related difficulties include 49.2 million Americans who struggle with concentrating on things, 38.8 million who have a problem remembering things, 28.2 who say they have no time to work on hobbies, 24 million who face difficulties with driving or taking public transportation, 22.3 million who can’t take care of financial responsibilities, and 18.3 million who are unable to perform employed or volunteer work.

Source: Olson R, Crain T, Buxton O, et al. A workplace intervention improves sleep: results from the randomized controlled Work, Family, and Health Study. Sleep Health. 2015. 

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