Research finds flexible working can boost heart health

Older employees and those with a higher cardiovascular risk saw their heart health return to what it was five to 10 years previously

A smiling woman wearing shorts and a blue plaid shirt walks through sand dune tussock holding the hand of a man in shorts and a white shirt who is walking in front of her, just out of shot.

Scientists have reported positive health benefits of flexible working from a study of more than 1500 IT employees and care workers.

The research, which was published in American Journal of Public Health, saw 1528 workers either receive a flexible working intervention or be placed in a control group. 

At the beginning of the study, the body mass index, systolic blood pressure, glycated haemoglobin, smoking status, HDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol of participants were measure.

These measures were used to calculate a cardiometabolic risk score (CRS) – estimating the risk of developing cardiovascular disease over the decade.

Within the intervention group, supervisors were trained on strategies to show support for workers’ personal and family lives alongside their work.

Teams also attended training sessions to increase the control of employees over their schedules and tasks.

Within the IT workers, individuals with a higher baseline CRS saw the intervention reverse 5.5 years of age-related changes. For care workers, the effect in this group was even greater – with a reduction in their CRS equivalent to 10.3 years.

Workers older than 45 with a higher CRS were likely to see a greater reduction than their younger colleagues.

Orfeu Buxton, of Penn State University’s Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, shared: “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.”

He added: “Now we know such changes can improve employee health and should be more broadly implemented.”