The health benefits of flexible working hours

New evidence has emerged to suggest that workers who are able to have input into the way their hours are structured might experience tangible health benefits. A recent review by researchers for the Cochrane Collaboration may highlight the potential health benefits associated with current trends towards more flexible working in the UK and Europe.

The Cochrane Systematic Review included ten studies involving a total of 16,603 and examined a variety of forms of flexible working. Self-scheduling was found to have positive impacts on a number of health outcomes including blood pressure, sleep, and mental health. In one study for instance, police officers who were able to change their starting times at work showed significant improvements in psychological wellbeing compared to police officers who started work at a fixed hour.

“Flexible working seems to be more beneficial for health and wellbeing where the individuals control their own working patterns, rather than where employers are in control,” said the review lead, Clare Bambra of the Wolfson Research Institute at Durham University in the UK. “Given the limited evidence base, we wouldn’t want to make any hard and fast recommendations, but these findings certainly give employers and employees something to think about.”

Co-author Kerry Joyce, also based at the Institute, added: “We need to know more about how the health effects of flexible working are experienced by different types of workers; for instance, comparing men [with] women, old [with] young, and skilled [with] unskilled. This is important [because] some forms of flexible working might only be available to employees with higher status occupations, and this may serve to increase existing differences in health between social groups.”

A full copy of the review is available on the Cochrane Library website. HealthInsite has an Employment topic area, including topic page on  Work-Related Injuries and Diseases.