A recent study conducted by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Penn State University suggests that increasing workplace flexibility can significantly lower the risk of cardiovascular disease among employees.
This study, published in The American Journal of Public Health, highlights the potential health benefits of interventions aimed at reducing the conflict between work and personal/family life for employees, particularly those at higher baseline cardiometabolic risk, including older employees.
Workplace Flexibility and Heart Health
The study represents one of the first attempts to investigate whether changes in the workplace environment can impact cardiometabolic risk—a significant factor in cardiovascular disease.
Co-lead author Lisa Berkman, a professor at Harvard Chan School, emphasizes the importance of working conditions as social determinants of health.
She notes that mitigating stressful workplace conditions and work-family conflict led to a reduction in cardiovascular disease risk among vulnerable employees, without compromising their productivity.
These findings are particularly relevant for low- and middle-wage workers who often have less control over their work schedules and job demands, making them more susceptible to health inequities.
The Workplace Intervention
As part of the Work, Family, and Health Network, researchers designed a workplace intervention focused on enhancing work-life balance.
The intervention involved training supervisors to support employees’ personal and family lives alongside their job performance.
Additionally, teams comprising supervisors and employees participated in hands-on training sessions to identify new ways to give employees more control over their schedules and tasks.
The intervention was randomly assigned to work units/sites within two companies: an IT company (with 555 participating employees) and a long-term care company (with 973 participating employees).
The IT company included male and female high and moderate-salaried technical workers, while the long-term care company primarily consisted of female, low-wage direct caregivers. Other units/sites continued with their usual business practices, serving as the control group.
Impact on Heart Risk
The study collected health data, including systolic blood pressure, body mass index, glycated hemoglobin, smoking status, HDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol, from 1,528 employees in both the experimental and control groups at the beginning of the study and after 12 months.
The researchers used this data to calculate a cardiometabolic risk score (CRS) for each employee, with a higher score indicating a greater estimated risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the next decade.
While the overall intervention did not produce significant effects on employees’ CRS, it did lead to noteworthy reductions among those with a higher baseline CRS.
Employees from both the IT and long-term care companies saw reductions equivalent to 5.5 and 10.3 years of age-related changes, respectively.
Additionally, age played a role, with employees older than 45 and a higher baseline CRS being more likely to experience a reduction in risk.
This study underscores the potential benefits of workplace interventions designed to enhance work-life balance.
By reducing conflicts between work and personal/family life, employers can contribute to the well-being of their employees, particularly those at greater risk of cardiovascular disease.
The research suggests that implementing such changes in workplace culture can lead to improved employee health, emphasizing the need for broader adoption of these strategies in various employment settings.
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The research findings can be found in the American Journal of Public Health
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