Some work environments have less built-in flexibility than others, but there are plenty of ways to make positive changes regardless of where or how you work.
Having a degree of flexibility at work can do wonders for your mental health. Not only can you accomplish more—flexibility also gives you the opportunity to build balance and restoration into your work, two components that are essential to better overall well-being.
Why flexibility at work matters
More than three in four employees say they’re interested in alternative work arrangements that provide greater flexibility—and for good reason. Having greater flexibility at work can lead to higher work satisfaction, a healthier lifestyle, and stronger mental health.
When you have freedom to adjust your hours, work tasks, or working location, you may have an easier time focusing and engaging on the job. Higher engagement and productivity can in turn improve your work performance and build your confidence.
Thirty-five percent of employees think having at least some flexibility over their working hours is key to improving work-life balance. It makes sense. With less rigidity in your work life, you have more time and energy to pursue what matters most to you, whether it’s exercise, family, or hobbies.
Improved mental health
At the heart of flexibility is autonomy. Having more control over your work means you can take proactive action to limit stress and add moments of calm into your routine. That’s a big reason why a flexible work arrangement is one of the top mitigators of employee stress, burnout, and depression.
How to make the most of your work setup
If you work from home
Working from home has the potential to make life a lot more convenient and relaxing. Here are some strategies to maintain balance while maximizing your flexibility.
Take advantage of your freedom. Working from home means you can skip the commute and potentially spend more time on yourself and your loved ones. If your work hours are flexible, you can schedule your hardest tasks for your peak productivity windows, or block time in the middle of the day to run errands or hit a workout. You can also do more on your work breaks: take a walk outside, eat lunch with your kids, or start a load of laundry between calls.
Plus, you can wear what you like and work how you want, whether it’s with music in the background or the heat on full blast.
Create a separation between work and personal time. Working from home can blur the line between downtime and work, so it’s crucial to set boundaries for yourself. Start by setting up a dedicated workspace, whether it’s a desk in your hallway or a clean area of the kitchen table. Creating a distinct work area can make it easier to focus during the day and unwind when you’re off the clock.
If you like structure, you may want to create a morning routine and start work at the same time every day. It’s also helpful to find a way to transition out of work mode when the day is over. Instead of shutting off your computer and heading straight to the couch, try going for a short walk or taking a shower.
Find opportunities to connect with people. It’s easy to feel isolated when working from home if you don’t make time to interact with other people. Catching up with friends and family can keep you feeling balanced, while connecting with your coworkers can give you a greater sense of belonging. Consider blocking off 10 to 15 minutes on the calendar every week to enjoy some virtual water cooler chat with your team or manager. You could also meet a friend for lunch or cook a meal with the people you live with.
If you have a hybrid schedule
Hybrid schedules offer the best of both worlds. You get the flexibility and convenience of working from home—and the stimulation and camaraderie of working onsite. Here’s how you can optimize a hybrid setup.
Understand your manager’s expectations. The key to maximizing your flexibility in the hybrid model is understanding what your manager or supervisor expects of you. In addition to getting clarity on your daily work hours and responsibilities, it’s crucial to find out which days you need to come to the workplace and how often you should be checking in when you’re working from home. Make sure you also ask how your weekly schedule might change if you take paid time off (PTO) or call out sick.
Schedule your tasks and meetings by day. Look for ways to consolidate tasks or simplify your daily routine. You may want to schedule all your meetings and customer-facing duties for onsite days, for example, then save administrative tasks and computer work for days when you’re at home.
Make the most of your time at home. Use your home work days wisely. Take advantage of opportunities to recharge or tackle personal admin. You may want to schedule doctor visits for WFH days, exercise on your lunch break, or meditate before an important presentation.
If you work onsite full-time
Working onsite full-time can limit your day-to-day flexibility, but you still have options. Here are a few tips for bringing flexibility into the mix:
Take mindful breaks. Make your 10-minute breaks and lunches count. Being intentional about your time makes the moments you do have feel fuller. Depending on your schedule and personal needs, you could listen to a podcast while taking a walk, call a friend on your lunch break, or do some stretches or breathing exercises when you have a few minutes of downtime.
Structure your day well. Think about how you can build flexibility into your day. Maybe you can block off time for specific projects, or batch your activities so you don’t have to shift between different work modes as often. If you’re a shift worker, you might be able to plan certain tasks for the times of day you like to do them best.
Maximize your time off. Planning and anticipating a break can improve your mood and help you stay motivated at work. Think about how you can use your PTO to your advantage. You could combine your vacation days with a paid company holiday, for example, so you get a longer stretch of time off. Make sure you check your company’s sick time policies, too; if you don’t get paid out for unused sick days at the end of the year, you may want to start using them as a mental health reset.
Talk to your manager about your options. Reach out to your manager or supervisor to discuss the possibility of incorporating more flexibility into your work life. You may want to ask for more say in your shift schedule, for example, or request a slightly earlier start time so you can pick up your child from daycare. If you have a disability or specific need that demands flexibility, don’t be afraid to speak up. Reasonable accommodations for disabilities are protected under the ADA.
How employers can offer more flexibility
A whopping 97% of employees say employers should be working to improve the mental health of their employees—and flexibility is a big part of that. Some companies don’t have the option of letting employees work from home or choose their hours, but every company can find creative ways to give their workers more flexibility. Here are just a few solutions:
- Expand benefits: Offer employees more PTO or extended leave options for family bonding, disability recovery, and caregiving. You can also incorporate paid mental health days; 49% of employees want mental health days on top of their sick time.
- Reconsider work processes: Changing internal workflows and company practices can give employees more flexibility on the job. You could cut down on meetings, extend project deadlines, or build in more break time. Seventy-eight percent of employees say that if their company encouraged them to take mental health breaks during the work day, they would.
- Update company policies: When you create a more relaxed workplace culture, you give employees permission to pursue a greater work-life balance. Part of creating that culture involves eliminating or updating harsh and punitive policies around taking time off, leaving work for emergencies, or showing up late.
For more information and ideas about flexibility at work, download our guide to redefining workplace flexibility.