Low flexibility, high stress

Fascinating research at the Focus on Workplace Flexibility conference in Washington that ended Nov. 30: Low workplace flexibility leads to more arguments and physical symptoms on the job, two Penn State researchers reported, basing their research on a sample of hourly hotel employees who had children aged 10 to 18. Workers will low flexibility had twice as many work arguments as workers with high flexibility. Also, when stress occurred, workers with low flexibility experienced more emotional and physical reactivity to them, professor David M. Almeida and researcher Kelly D. Davis found. High flexibility, it seems, may act as a protective factor.  

But, the researchers found one puzzling result. Workers with high flexibility tended to have a greater negative affect when the work stress involved co-workers. Perhaps, the researchers guessed, there may be some burden involved in covering for co-workers. 

It also looked like workers with low flexibility at work were more likely to transmit work-placed stress to their children, but there needs to be more research there, especially since the jobs with the least flexibility tend to involve low-income, minority, female, less educated and hourly workers. Almeida and Davis point out that flexible work policies have been associated with fewer stress-related health problems and better physical health, but no one is exactly sure why. The Penn State researchers think that perhaps it is because flexibility acts a protective factor, helping to shield individuals from the full brunt of life's inevitable daily stresses. The workers participated in a daily telephone diary study.

The conference grew out of the White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility hosted by President Obama and Michelle Obama on March 31, 2010. The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has funded a 15-year initiative to look into workplace flexibility.