Work-life balance may benefit heart health, says study

Reduction in cardiovascular disease risk seen among some employees

Work-life balance may benefit heart health, says study

Workplaces that had interventions that promoted a balance between an employee’s work and their personal lives may reduce workers’ risk of cardiovascular disease, a study by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Penn State University found.

The study investigated the effects of changes made to the work environment on the cardiometabolic risk of employees.

“The study illustrates how working conditions are important social determinants of health,” said Lisa Berkman, the co-lead author, Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy and of Epidemiology at Harvard Chan School, and 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,” she added.

What were the findings of the study?

The researchers designed a workplace intervention that was meant to increase work-life balance which involved the training of supervisors regarding strategies to show support for employees’ personal lives as well as their job performances. Teams of supervisors and employees attended training sessions to identify new ways to increase the control of workers over their tasks and schedules.

The intervention was assigned to certain work units and sites while others conducted their business as usual. The systolic blood pressure, body mass index, glycated hemoglobin, smoking status, HDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol of the employees were recorded at the start of the study and was recorded again after 12 months.

This information was used to calculate a cardiometabolic risk score (CRS) for each employee where higher scores meant that there was a higher risk for cardiovascular diseases within 10 years.

While the workplace intervention did not have any significant effects on the risk scores of employees, there was a reduction found in scores among those who had higher CRS baselines. There were reductions equivalent to 5.5 (IT company) and 10.3 (long-term care company) years of age-related changes. Employees who were older than 45 that had a higher CRS baseline were more likely to see a reduction than those who were younger than them.

“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,” said Berkman.

“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 author Orfeu Buxton, professor of biobehavioral health and director of the Sleep, Health & Society Collaboratory at Penn State.

“Now we know such changes can improve employee health and should be more broadly implemented,” added Buxton.

The study involved 555 employees at an IT company and 973 employees at a long-term care company. The IT employees consisted of high and moderately salaried technical workers while the long-term care employees were mostly female low-wage direct caregivers.

It was published in the American Journal of Public Health.