As organizations increasingly seek ways to improve the health status of their workforces and reduce burgeoning waistlines and health care utilization costs, they must look to new approaches that hold potential for achieving meaningful results. A strategy previously discussed on this blog is affording workers more control over when and where they work – known as schedule control – in which work is seen as an activity and not a destination.
In a 2011 study, schedule control showed promise among knowledge workers who thanks to today’s information and communications technology (ICT) are able to be productive independent of time and place. The study of 659 knowledge workers found that affording them schedule control can promote employee wellness, particularly in terms of prevention behaviors. Another study published in 2007 found a positive association among workers who perceived greater control over their work schedules with hours of sleep and the frequency of physical activity. It concluded schedule control may play an important role in effective worksite health promotion programs.
Health professionals would agree that health promoting behaviors take dedication and time – sufficient time for meaningful exercise and adequate sleep. In recent decades, however, time has become a restricted commodity for full time workers, taking a toll on their health status. Indeed, a 1996 study correlated too insufficient time for both work and family obligations to poor health outcomes. Another study sponsored by Health Canada in 2004 found workers with high levels of work time conflict were in poorer physical and mental health and made greater use of Canada’s health care system.
Schedule control provides a means to take back wasted time and thus offers a potential win-win wellness solution for organizations. Providing it costs organizations virtually nothing and even offers the possible bonus of saving on office space costs. For knowledge workers, it frees up time devoted to a no longer necessary daily commute to the office. (Commuting has been shown in a European study to interfere with patterns of everyday life by restricting free time and reducing sleeping time.) While more study is needed, existing research suggests that perhaps the most promising “worksite wellness” intervention may be to drop the “site” and instead focus on the work and the worker.
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