Summary of : “Systematic review on the association between employee worktime control and work-non- work balance, health and well-being, and job-related outcomes” by Nijp et al, 2012. Full study available here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/225283448

Key points:

  • Employees who feel they have more control to decide when to perform their job are more likely to experience a sense of work-life balance, have greater levels of health and wellbeing and experience more positive job-related outcomes.
  • Offering employees the ability to influence the length of their work day and make decisions about when they start/stop their day (i.e. flex-time) is seen as the most important factor for job-related outcomes such as job-satisfaction.
  • Employee health and wellbeing is influenced by more than the presence of control over when they work – contextual factors including where they work and personal responsibilities also seen as major drivers.

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There has been ample talk amongst academics and practitioners alike about the role that job autonomy has on productivity (see Hackman and Oldman, 1976; and Karasek and Theorell, 1990 ), but little research has been down on how elements of “work-time control” has on the individual worker. Factors such as how much control a worker has in deciding when to perform their job or the ability to schedule their own working hours play a major factor when it comes to employees feeling a sense of work-life balance and measures such as job satisfaction, employee turnover and organizational commitment.

How’d They Do That?

In a 2012 systematic review of work-time control (WTC), Nijp et al. (2012), set out to determine how strong the empirical evidence was showing an association between (categories of) WTC and the following outcome categories: indicators of work–non-work balance, health/well-being, and job-related outcomes. The researchers were not only looking to see if these relationships existed on a grand scale but they were also looking to determine if there was a causal link. In other words, could they say definitively that providing employees with more control over where and when they worked leads to greater levels of health and wellbeing, work-life balance and
job-related outcomes.

variables

Figure 1. Study variables: Work Time Control

After conducting a systematic review of the literature and empirical research conducted between 1995 and September 2011, the authors narrowed down their focus to 63 papers representing a total of 53 studies to test their hypotheses. These papers included studies with multiple study designs including: cross-sectional (n > 100), intervention and longitudinal studies. Because these studies ranged dramatically in how they measured their outcomes and conducted their analyses, the researchers used an excepted approach to quantifying the presence/absence of an assumed association between WTC, and work–non-work balance, health/well-being, and job-related outcomes (see Table 1 for definitions). This approach, called the standardized index of convergence (SIC) essentially represents the degree of consistency that may or may not exist with regard to the association of WTC and a specific outcome category across all 63 of the papers. The SIC values ranged from -1 to 1, with a -1 representing that all studies showed a negative association, and a +1 meaning all studies showed a positive association. The number of studies the associations appeared in also factored into an overall measure of the strength of evidence.

WTC Categories

Global Work-Time Control (WTC) e.g., How much control do you have in deciding when you perform your job?; to what extent do you have control over scheduling your working hours?”
Multidimensional WTC e.g., control over breaks, starting and ending times, days off, vacation, etc.
Flextime e.g., To what extent are you able to influence the length of a work day, and the starting and ending times of a workday?
Leave Control e.g., Are you free to decide when to take holidays or a day off?”.
Other Sub-Dimensions e.g., control of when to take overtime, flexible working hours and compressed working schedule combination, etc.

  Outcome Categories

Health and Wellbeing e.g., indicators of stress, burnout, affective well-being (depression, anxiety), fatigue, sleep, sickness absence, and general health.
Work-Non-Work Balance e.g., work–home interference, and work–non-work conflict, balance, and enrichment.
Job-Related Outcomes e.g., measures of job motivation, satisfaction, performance, and commitment, and actual or intended turnover.

Table 1. Study variables with definitions

What They Found? The researchers found (see Figure 2) that there was moderately strong evidence that increased Global WTC results in improved work–non-work balance and job-related outcomes, in particular job satisfaction. While there was no clear evidence for effects of increased WTC on health and well-being outcomes this may have been due to the limited number of studies available on Health and Wellbeing and none looked at subjective wellbeing. Additionally, there was also moderately strong evidence for a positive association between multidimensional WTC and work–non-work balance. Lastly, flextime was shown to have a moderately strong relationship to all three outcome variables: work–non-work balance, health/well-being, and job-related outcomes.

High-level summary of the notable findings of the review are summarized below:

summary

Figure 2. Study findings: Strong moderate/strong relationships between measures of WTC and outcome variables

do notGreat News! While the cross-sectional and intervention studies that addressed health and wellbeing outcomes showed no evidence for overall effects of WTC on health/well-being the interventional studies DID show significant effects on individual indicators of health/well-being. While not causal, the results definitely emphasize the role that organizational interventions can have on the overall health and wellbeing of employees.

Additionally, findings show that providing employees the ability to influence the length of their work day, by defining their own start and end times, was related to higher levels of job-related outcomes, health and wellbeing and work-life balance. This makes sense given the growing demands that are being placed on workers and their desire to find more balance in their lives. By letting employees choose when their work day starts and ends they are able to work when they do their best work knowing that they can address their personal needs on their own schedule as well.

The finding from the systematic review also demonstrate that employee health and wellbeing are influenced by more than the presence of control over when you work – contextual factors including where you work and personal responsibilities are also seen as playing a role.

Takeaways for Your Practice:

  1. When it comes to employee health and wellbeing, there’s more to it than we think. What other factors should you consider besides general work-time control and flextime in trying to affect the health and wellbeing of your workers?
  2. Since the evidence is unclear about the relationship between providing global control to workers over when they get work done and health and wellbeing
  3. What will you do differently?

References:

Hackman, J. R., & Oldham, G. R. (1976). Motivation through the design of work: Test of a theory. Organizational behavior and human performance,16(2), 250-279. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0030-5073(76)90016-7.

Karasek R, Theorell, T. Healthy work: stress, productivity, and the reconstruction of working life. New York, NY: Basic Books; 1990. p.89–103.

Nijp, H. H., Beckers, D. G., Geurts, S. A., Tucker, P., & Kompier, M. A. (2012). Systematic            review on the association between employee worktime control and work-non-work              balance, health and well-being, and job-related outcomes. Scandinavian journal of work,        environment & health, 299-313.

Glossary:

Work-Time Control (WTC) – an employee’s perception of possibilities of control over the duration, position, and distribution of worktime.

Cross-sectional study – a type of observational study that involves the analysis of data collected from a population, or a representative subset, at one specific point in time.