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Can flexible working be used to improve your employees’ health?

BY Donald MacKinnon
Employment Law & HR
BG Purple

It has been reported that lengthy commutes to work can result in an increased likelihood of depression, obesity and money worries. To combat this, employers are being encouraged to increase flexible working in their businesses. A study led by Cambridge University found that increased flexible working can improve health and increase productivity. According to the study a journey of under 30 minutes’ increases productivity by 7 days per year compared to someone to travels for over an hour. Also, those who travel for over an hour are 33% more likely to have depression and 37% more likely to have financial concerns. Those with a longer commute are 46% less likely to get the recommended 7 hours sleep per night and 21% more likely to be overweight.

Shaun Subel, director of VitalityHealth encourages work places to introduce flexible working to help reduce stress. “Allowing employees the flexibility to avoid the rush-hour commute where possible, or fit their routine around their commitments, can help reduce stress and promote healthier lifestyle choices and, importantly, this is shown to impact positively on productivity”.

The study found that there is a difference in the benefits between flexible working and working from home. Employees who worked flexibly were found to be 5 days more productive than those who simply worked standard fixed hours. However, those who worked from home did not share in the same benefits, in fact, they were the least productive of all surveyed and lost 29 productive days each year.

The TUC have blamed high house prices for the long commutes as people cannot afford to live in areas close to their work. The Office of National Statistics released figures that showed an increase of 31% in the last 5 years in those commuting for over 2 hours or more to get to work.

All employees have the right to ask for flexible working and you will need to assess the request in a reasonable manner. This may include looking at the advantages and disadvantages of the application, holding a meeting with the individual and offering an appeal process if you turn down the request. Failure to do this may lead to a claim.

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