Flexible Workplaces Allow for Healthier Employees

Ellen Ernst Kossek, PhD
Ellen Ernst Kossek

A recent study found that a more flexible work atmosphere can make employees happier and healthier. Ellen Ernst Kossek, PhD, University Distinguished Professor at Michigan State University’s School of Labor & Industrial Relations, has spent more than 4 years researching the flexibility of managers in four different work environments. Though the environments differ, the message remains the same — monitored flexibility reaps rewards for workers.

“It is part of a manager’s job to be supportive of people’s non-work needs,” Kossek told O&P Business News. “Everybody today needs some kind of support … Our pace of life has sped up with cell phones and e-mail and it’s very hard for people to say ‘I’m not available.’”

Kossek is also the associate director of a virtual Center for Work, Family Health and Stress, working with Leslie Hammer, PhD, director of the Occupational Health Psychology program at Portland State University as part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health National Work, Family and Health Network. According to Kossek and Hammer, feeling supported makes a huge difference in employee health, turnover and positive work behaviors, such as adhering to safety rules.

For the purposes of one of their recent studies Hammer and Kossek identified key behaviors including: emotional support, role-modeling, structural support and creative work family management. Then they created a training program for managers to incorporate these behaviors into their management styles.

They stressed the importance of the “little things” that make a big impact such as saying hello to employees in the morning. This raises the employees comfort level with one quick sentence. This is the first step to giving more emotional support in the workplace. Structural support includes helping employees negotiate conflicts between work and family responsibilities.

They note that a lot of good comes from people feeling respected but advises going about adding a little flexibility in to the work schedule with a plan in mind.

“To have this work well for your business, performance management must be done,” Kossek said adding that personal attention is key. “If somebody is not pulling their weight, don’t say that nobody can have flexibility.”

Managers have to put precise performance management strategies into place to see that a more flexible work schedule is a win-win situation.

“Flexibility is only going to work well if you have a good performance management system. If you have a poor system for measuring performance, flexibility is just going to make it worse because you’re not seeing people,” she said. “Flexibility is not an entitlement. Jobs change. Customers change. Nothing is forever.”

Kossek also advises that employers try out a more flexible system for 6 months and follow-up to make sure that it is working for everyone. — Jennifer Hoydicz


In today’s environment, cell phones, e-mail and other technologies have caused flex work hours and flex offices to become an everyday part of life. We do not need to have large physical structures to punch in and out of to prove we are working. Common place in O&P are daily clinic visits and hospital visits. Some practices are mobile, which are all out of a physical office. Do O&P administrative staff, that handle billing, have to be in the same building as the patients and practitioners for whom they are doing the billing? It should be the result of the work, not the location or time in which the job is being performed that is important. Evaluate a person’s job performance based on their contribution to the success of the organization, and not how many times that employee is seen working. I have seen O&P central fabrication facilities that open early or close late due to employees’ schedules, rush hour/traffic issues, and/or environment. The result of such flexibility is a happier more motivated employee. Isn’t that part of being a successful organization or leader, creating a more productive motivated staff?

— Russel J. Hornfisher
Director of sales and marketing, Becker Orthopedic and American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association, board member

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