Increased flexible working may improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of heart disease by the equivalent of five to 10 years of ageing.
This is according to a study by Harvard and Penn State universities, published in The American Journal of Public Health. It is one of the first studies to examine the impact of workplace conditions on cardiovascular health.
The researchers designed a workplace intervention intended to increase work-life balance. Supervisors were trained on strategies to support employees’ personal and family considerations in addition to their work performance. Teams also attended practical training to identify opportunities for employees to have greater control over their schedules.
The study focused on two companies: an IT firm and a long-term care provider. Interventions were randomly assigned to some sites within the companies, with others continuing as usual. Employees’ blood pressure, body mass index, glycated hemoglobin, smoking status, HDL cholesterol and total cholesterol was recorded at the beginning of the study, and again after 12 months.
Researchers observed that in workplaces which implemented the changes, employees experienced a significant reduction in their risk of cardiovascular disease. The difference was equivalent to between five and 10 years of age-related heart changes.
‘Reducing conflict between employees’ work and personal lives’
In addition to improving their heart health, the increased flexible working did not have a negative impact on employees’ productivity.
‘The study illustrates how working conditions are important social determinants of health,’ said co-lead author Lisa Berkman. ‘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.
‘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 authors of the study hoped that similar interventions would be more widely implemented across workplaces.
Co-lead author Orfeu Buxton said: ‘The intervention was designed to change the culture of the workplace over time with the intention of reducing conflict between employees’ work and personal lives and ultimately improving their health. Now we know such changes can improve employee health and should be more broadly implemented.’
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