Job Flexibility and Security Promotes Better Mental Health Among Employees

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March 26, 2024


Jillian McKoy,

Michael Saunders,


Job Flexibility and Security Promotes Better Mental Health

A new nationwide study indicates that workplace policies that provide stability and flexibility to employees boosts overall well-being and encourages workers to seek health services when they need it.

Employment is a recognized determinant of health, and different aspects of a job can be beneficial or deleterious to mental health.

Job flexibility and job security, in particular, are key factors that contribute to employees’ mental health in the United States, according to a new study led by a Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researcher.

Published in the journal JAMA Network Open, the study found that employed adults with greater job flexibility and higher job security were less likely to experience serious psychological distress or anxiety. Greater job flexibility and higher job security were also associated with fewer days on average worked while feeling ill.

While prior research has linked job stability and flexibility to psychological well-being, this study is the first nationally representative analysis of these job characteristics and their effects on employee mental health, work absences, and mental healthcare use.

These findings suggest that workplace policies that prioritize job flexibility and security can lead to healthier work environments that mitigate stress and improve employees’ overall well-being.

“It is important to recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing mental health disparities and threatened job security, both of which especially impacted individuals in lower-wage positions, frontline workers, and marginalized communities,” says study lead and corresponding author Dr. Monica Wang, associate professor of community health sciences at BUSPH. “Given this context, understanding how job and work design influence mental health becomes increasingly imperative as workplaces continue to explore ways to adapt to changing work norms.”

For the study, Dr. Wang and colleagues from BUSPH, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, Brown University, and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Northwest College of Medicine utilized data from more than 18,000 US adults ages 18 and older who participated in the 2021 National Health Interview Survey, one of the largest national health surveys of adults. Job flexibility was based on participants’ perceived ease of being able to change their work schedule to tend to personal or family responsibilities, as well as maintain regular work schedules and receive work hours in advance. Job security reflected their perceived likelihood of losing their job.

The findings showed that employed adults with greater job flexibility and higher job security were 25 percent and 26 percent less likely, respectively, to experience serious psychological distress. Those with greater job flexibility were 13 percent less likely to experience daily anxiety, while participants with greater job security were 27 percent less likely to experience daily anxiety.

“Being able to predict our work schedule and have the flexibility to make time for important personal or family commitments allows us to better balance work and personal responsibilities, including the time to take care of one’s health,” says Wang. “This can reduce stress and anxiety while promoting greater control over schedules.” Greater job security, she says, can offer a “psychological sense of stability” and reduce work absenteeism as a result of higher work satisfaction, decreased job-related stress, and financial security.

In examining how job flexibility and security affected work absenteeism, the team found mixed results. Employees with greater job flexibility and higher job security were associated with fewer days on average worked while feeling ill, suggesting that workers with flexible jobs felt comfortable to take sick leave when needed. But while greater job flexibility was associated with a higher number of missed workdays over the past 3 months, greater job security was associated with fewer missed days over the past 3 and 12 months.

The researchers speculate that the mixed results may reflect an interplay of multiple factors, such as the different types of job flexibility and security, individual priorities and needs, and workplace culture. Job benefits can also vary greatly across roles and industries. “For example, jobs with greater flexibility in scheduling may still be less conducive to employees taking sick leave if employees have limited or no paid sick leave,” says Wang.

As advocates continue to push for universal paid sick leave—the US is currently the only high-income country that does not guarantee paid time off—the study highlights other changes and policies that companies can implement to promote work-life balance, including flexible work schedules, hybrid and remote options, and policies for adjusting work hours. They can also provide flexible employee contracts, skill development, and career advancement opportunities. Organizations could support employees’ health by revising sick leave policies, expanding of mental healthcare coverage, and partnering with services that address healthcare access barriers, such as telehealth counseling.

“Workplaces can experiment with different flexibility initiatives to see what works best for the organization and for the employees,” Wang says.


About Boston University School of Public Health

Founded in 1976, Boston University School of Public Health is one of the top ten ranked schools of public health in the world. It offers master's- and doctoral-level education in public health. The faculty in six departments conduct policy-changing public health research around the world, with the mission of improving the health of populations—especially the disadvantaged, underserved, and vulnerable—locally and globally.


JAMA Network Open

Method of Research

Observational study

Subject of Research


Article Title

Job Flexibility, Job Security, and Mental Health Among US Working Adults

Article Publication Date


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