Animals in cages aren't happy; should people be any different?
Yet conventional employment practices, say sociologists Phyllis Moen and Erin Kelly, can put people in "time cages," institutionalized rhythms that override individual and family needs, take a toll on employee health, and eventually affect the employer's bottom line.
To see if employees enjoy better health when they have more flexibility and control over their work schedules, Moen and her colleagues studied the experience of Best Buy Co., Inc, a Fortune 500 corporation headquartered in the Minneapolis suburb of Richfield, as it rolled out its Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) program.
Turning workplace tradition on its head, ROWE evaluates performance exclusively on measurable results. Employees have the freedom to routinely change when and where they do their work based on their own needs and job responsibilities -- without having to seek permission from their managers.
Over the six months of the study, researchers found that employees got almost an hour's more sleep a night, exercised more, had more energy, and less stress. When they were sick, they were more likely to go to the doctor and less likely to show up at work where they could infect others. More important, they had less work-related conflict with their families.
Healthier and happier employees benefit the company, as well. Turnover for all types of employees dropped 45 percent, and Best Buy is anticipating lower health care costs and greater productivity as the program continues.
Other members of the research team were Quinlei Huang, at the time a sociology undergraduate, and Eric Tranby, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Delaware. The study, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, received funds from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institute on Aging, the Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research, and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
- Mary Pattock