People's Heart Health Improves in More 'Flexible' Workplaces

THURSDAY, Nov. 9, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- A kinder, more thoughtful workplace can lead to better heart health among older employees, a new study finds.

Older workers’ heart health risk factors decreased significantly when their office employed interventions designed to reduce work-family conflicts, researchers report in the Nov. 8 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Specifically, their heart risk factors reflected those of people 5 to 10 years younger when their workplace culture provided them better flexibility and support.

“The study illustrates how working conditions are important social determinants of health,” said co-lead researcher Lisa Berkman, director of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies.

“When stressful workplace conditions and work-family conflict were mitigated, we saw a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease among more vulnerable employees, without any negative impact on their productivity,” Berkman added in a Harvard news release. “These findings could be particularly consequential for low- and middle-wage workers who traditionally have less control over their schedules and job demands and are subject to greater health inequities.”

For the study, researchers worked with two companies -- an IT company with 555 participating employees and a long-term care company with 973 participating employees.

The researchers trained company supervisors on strategies that support employees’ personal and family lives. Teams of supervisors and employees also attended hands-on trainings to identify new ways to increase employees’ control over their schedules and workflow.

The workplace changes didn’t have a significant effect on all employee’s heart health risk factors, researchers found.

But there were significant improvements for workers who entered the study with high heart risk scores.

Those employees at the IT company saw a reduction in their heart risk scores equivalent to 5.5 years of age-related changes, researchers found.

Results were even more striking at the long-term care company, where employees saw a reduction equivalent to 10.3 years.

Age also played a role. Employees over 45 with higher heart risk scores were more likely to see an improvement than younger workers.

“The intervention was designed to change the culture of the workplace over time, with the intention of reducing conflict between employees’ work and personal lives and ultimately improving their health,” said co-lead researcher Orfeu Buxton, director of the Sleep, Health & Society Collaboratory at Penn State University. “Now we know such changes can improve employee health and should be more broadly implemented.”

More information

Harvard Medical School has more about heart health risk factors.

SOURCE: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, news release, Nov. 8, 2023

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