The availability of flexible work has long been a driving force for job seekers when choosing careers—and now the pandemic has pushed flexible work arrangements even further into the spotlight. With workers struggling to balance work with increased responsibilities at home amid school and office shutdowns, in a matter of weeks, flexible work went from being a “nice to have” to an absolute necessity.
From remote work and freelance contracts to part-time, flexible, or alternative schedules, flexible work options come with a variety of benefits, including the ability to spend more time with family, a reduced or eliminated commute, and increased productivity. But how does flexible work affect mental health on a greater scale?
In partnership with Mental Health America (MHA), FlexJobs asked more than 800 employed respondents how flexible work impacts their mental health and wellness. This is what we found.
A Flexible Work-Life Balance
Flexible work provides more than just flexibility—it also gives employees the space they need to find a better work-life balance. Of respondents who currently have access to flexible work options, 48% say their current work-life balance is excellent or very good, compared to 36% of workers without flexible work options.
Flexibility and Workplace Support
According to our survey, flexible work environments seem to foster supportive workplaces. When asked about support in the workplace, 54% of people with flexible work options say they have the emotional support they need at work to manage their stress, and 57% have the ability to change stressful things about their work, such as workload, time off, and changing tasks or responsibilities. Just 45% and 37% without work flexibility, respectively, feel the same.
Unfortunately, though, employers aren’t always willing to discuss mental health issues—66% of employees without flexible work options (compared to 52% with) say their workplace does not encourage open conversations about burnout and mental health.
Of the workers who have experienced burnout at work, 25% with work flexibility were able to have really productive conversations with HR about their struggles. Only 15% without flexible work options agree.
In response to how their workplace could better support them moving forward, having flexibility in the workday was the top answer, at 56% of respondents.
In Search of Better Mental Health
When it comes to mental wellness, flexibility plays a decisive role, with 17% of workers with flexible work options and 27% without saying their mental health is poor or very poor. This means that employees who don’t have access to flexible work are 1.8 times more likely to experience poor mental health!
Across the board, people with flexible work options proactively make the effort to take care of their mental health at a higher rate than people without.
For example, 38% with flexible work arrangements stick to a healthy sleep schedule, and 44% strive for a balanced diet, compared to 31% and 40% for those without flexible work options. Twenty percent of respondents with access to flexible work practice yoga, and 28% meditate, compared to 15% and 25% of those without.
People with flexible work options are also more interested in attending virtual wellness services from their workplace. An impressive 35% of people with work flexibility would do desktop yoga and 40% would participate in virtual workout classes, but only 29% and 31% without flexible work options would be interested.
Flexible Work and Improved Quality of Life
The vast majority of our respondents agree that more work flexibility would increase their overall quality of life, including helping them take better care of their mental health (80%), decreasing their level of stress (83%), and increasing the time they spend exercising (67%). And 92% think having a flexible job makes them (or could make them) a happier person in general.
Distractions can also be major sources of stress, especially during work. When you’re distracted while working, it can take as many as 20 minutes to refocus on the task and get back into the groove—referred to as “resumption lag.” Fortunately, flexible work options can help with focus during work, decreasing stressful distractions. A startling 60% of respondents without flexible work options feel distracted or find it difficult to concentrate because of their work environment. Only 47% with work flexibility experience distraction due to their work environment.
Looking Toward a Remote Future
More than half of all workers in the United States transitioned to working from home during the pandemic, and many are hoping to stay that way long-term.
According to our survey, remote work has gained some new fans in the past several months, with 62% saying they view remote work more favorably since the beginning of COVID-19. In fact, if given the choice, 66% would prefer to work remotely full-time after the pandemic is over, while 33% would prefer a combination of in-office and remote work. Less than 2% of respondents are interested in full-time onsite work.
Find Your Flexibility
Flexible work options, especially during stressful and uncertain times, can enable you to better care for all of your mental, emotional, and physical needs. And more control over your workday, whatever that means in terms of your personal work flexibility arrangements, can lead to improved overall mental health and wellness.
Ready to support your mental health with a new flexible job? These 30 companies often hire for flexible schedule jobs. For thousands of other remote and flexible positions, check out the FlexJobs database. Not a member yet? Take the tour and learn how FlexJobs can help you find the balance you’re looking for.
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