Cochrane Summaries

Trusted evidence. Informed decisions. Better health.

Flexible working conditions and their effects on employee health and wellbeing

Joyce K, Pabayo R, Critchley JA, Bambra C
Published Online: 
17 February 2010

Flexible working arrangements, such as flexitime and teleworking, are becoming more common in industrialised countries but the impacts of such flexibility on employee health and wellbeing are largely unknown. This review examined the health and wellbeing effects of flexible working arrangements which favour the worker as well as those dictated by the employer (for example, fixed-term contracts or mandatory overtime). 

Ten controlled before and after studies were found which evaluated the effects of six different types of flexible working arrangement on employee health and wellbeing: self-scheduling (n = 4); flextime (n = 1); overtime (n = 1); gradual retirement (n = 2); involuntary part-time (n = 1) and fixed-term contract (n = 1). 

Self-scheduling of shift interventions and employee controlled partial/early retirement were found to improve health (including systolic blood pressure and heart rate; tiredness; mental health, sleep duration, sleep quality and alertness; and self-rated health status) and/or wellbeing (co-workers' social support and sense of community) and no ill health effects were observed.

The studies of overtime working, flexitime and fixed-term contracts found no significant effects on physical, mental or general health or on any of the wellbeing outcomes examined. Importantly, however, the study on overtime failed to provide detailed information on either the amount or duration of overtime worked, so it is therefore difficult to draw any conclusions regarding the effects of overtime on workers' health and wellbeing.

Overall, these findings seem to indicate that flexibility in working patterns which gives the worker more choice or control is likely to have positive effects on health and wellbeing. However, given the small number of studies included in the review and their methodological limitations, caution should be applied to this conclusion. Well-designed studies are therefore needed to further explain the relationship between flexible working and health and wellbeing.