Can a Flexible Boss Improve Your Health?

New research shows flexible workplaces can lengthen your life.

ByABC News
October 13, 2009, 3:09 PM

Oct. 14, 2009— -- Having a supportive and flexible workplace may add years to your life, according to a novel nationwide study released Tuesday by the Work, Family and Health Network.

The preliminary findings -- compiled from eight federally-funded research teams across the country -- show employers' policies can directly impact workers' risk of cardiovascular disease, how much they sleep each night, their families' well-being and personal job satisfaction.

The three-year study looked at a range of industries, including long-term elderly care, hotels and hospitality, retail and grocery stores and several large white-collar firms.

The report pinpointed significant impacts of workplace culture on the health and wellness of workers and their families. Among the findings:

-- Workers are twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease if they have a boss who shows little willingness to accommodate employees' family needs, such as caring for a sick child or attending a parent-teacher conference.

-- People who work for bosses who are more flexible about where and when work gets done on average got 30 minutes more sleep per night than those who toiled for more restrictive bosses.

-- Employees who experienced tension with a boss or another employee while at work reported being significantly less in touch with their children's activities and whereabouts that day.

While many of the findings may seem like common sense, researchers say this is one of the first attempts to document the health effects of workplaces that have been slow to accommodate new technologies, the latest business productivity strategies and evolving cultural values.

"A lot of companies have adopted flex-time or even tele-work policies, but then haven't changed their work practices to integrate flexibility," said Ellen Ernst Kossek of Michigan State University, one of the study researchers.

Kossek says employees need more assurances from managers that taking advantage of flexibility programs won't put their job security at risk.

"With companies cutting training budgets, [supervisors] haven't been taught basic management skills. Worse, it's common for firms to reward supervisors for making their numbers, regardless of the human cost," she wrote in a Harvard Business Review report, co-authored by Leslie Hammer.