Does a Flexible Work Environment Reduce Heart Disease Risk?

A new study suggests that increasing workplace flexibility may reduce employees’ risk of cardiovascular disease. Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Pennsylvania State University conducted a study that demonstrated how workplace interventions aimed at reducing conflict between employees’ personal and family lives and their work helped reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. This reduction was equivalent to preventing five to ten years’ worth of age-related cardiometabolic changes.

One of the earliest studies to examine the potential impact of workplace modifications on cardiometabolic risk is that which was published in The American Journal of Public Health.

“The study illustrates how working conditions are important social determinants of health,” said co-lead author Lisa Berkman, Professor of Public Policy and of Epidemiology at Harvard.

“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,” Berkman said.


In order to improve work-life balance, the researchers created a workplace intervention specifically for this study. Teams consisting of employees and supervisors participated in practical training to find innovative approaches to give workers more control over their schedules and responsibilities. Supervisors received training on how to support employees’ personal and family lives in addition to their work performances.

Two firms were selected at random by the researchers to receive the intervention: an IT company with 555 participating employees and a long-term care company with 973 participating employees. The intervention benefited patients at higher risk even while it had no appreciable overall impact on the cardiometabolic risk score (CRS) of the workforce, according to the researchers.

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