Job flexibility, security may promote work-related mental health, study says

Organizational policies that foster job flexibility and security may create a healthier work environment, reduce work-related stress and promote better mental health, according to a study published March 25.

In particular, greater job flexibility and higher job security were associated with workers being less likely to experience serious psychological distress or anxiety, as well as fewer days worked while feeling ill.

“It is important to recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing mental health disparities and threatened job security, both of which especially impacted individuals in lower-wage positions, frontline workers and marginalized communities,” Monica Wang, the lead study author and associate professor of community health sciences at Boston University, said in a statement

“Given this context, understanding how job and work design influence mental health becomes increasingly imperative as workplaces continue to explore ways to adapt to changing work norms,” she said.

Wang and colleagues analyzed data for more than 18,000 adults who participated in the 2021 National Health Interview Survey, which included information about job flexibility and security. Participants described flexibility in terms of ease of being able to change their work schedule to tend to personal or family responsibilities and receive work hours in advance, and job security reflected their perceived likelihood of losing their job.

Overall, those with greater job flexibility were 25% less likely to experience serious psychological distress, and those with higher job security were 26% less likely to experience such distress. In addition, those with greater job flexibility were 13% less likely to experience daily anxiety, and those with greater job security were 27% less likely to experience anxiety.

Beyond that, employees with greater job flexibility and higher job security were associated with fewer days worked while feeling ill. This suggests that workers felt comfortable with taking sick leave when needed, the study authors wrote. Greater job security was also associated with fewer missed days during the past three months, as well as the past 12 months.

A majority of workers said they had suffered from workplace-related stress recently, and 62% said employers aren’t doing enough to combat that stress, according to a 2023 Robert Walters Group survey. Workers’ most frequently cited triggers were stability concerns, managerial pressure, lack of pay increases and heavier workloads.

In addition, most employees said their mental health declined or plateaued in the past year, according to a Calm report, with 69% saying their mental health has worsened or stayed the same and 81% saying they’ve struggled with nervousness, anxiousness and stress.

Some sources say mental health training for managers may help; others have suggested employers work to showcase employee assistance programs.