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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - People who have some control over their working hours may be healthier in both mind and body than those in less flexible jobs, according to a U.S. study.
Analyzing 10 published studies involving about 16,600 workers, researchers found that certain work conditions that gave employees some control -- such as self-scheduling shift work and gradual or partial retirement -- were linked to health benefits.
Those benefits included lower blood pressure and heart rate, and better quality sleep and less fatigue during the day.
But the findings, published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, do not prove that flexible work schedules lead to better health although they support the theory that "control at work is good for health," said the researchers.
Dr. Clare Bambra of Britain's Durham University said according to that theory, reduced stress may be what bestows the benefits although there are other possibilities as well.
A flexible work schedule might, for instance, make it easier for people to find time for exercise, Bambra told Reuters Health.
For years, studies have found links between "high job strain" and heightened rates of heart disease, depression and other ills. Researchers define high job strain as work that is demanding but allows employees little to no control over how they work.
This has sparked increasing interest in whether there are health benefits to be gained from non-traditional work conditions like self-scheduling, "flextime," telecommuting from home, and job sharing.
For their review, Bambra and her colleagues used 10 studies that all followed workers for at least six months and had to compare employees with flexible conditions with another group.
But Bambra said a shortcoming of all the studies in the review was that none was a randomized controlled trial.
Bambra said those types of studies "are needed before we can make any real conclusions. The data we have is indicative rather than definitive."
But she said they found no evidence that flexible work conditions stand to harm employees' well-being so for now employers and policy makers can consider self-scheduling and gradual retirement to be "plausible means" for promoting employee health. (Reporting by Amy Norton of Reuters Health, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)