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Bosses, Stop Caring If Your Employees Are At Their Desks

Have you ever suspected that you’d be healthier, happier, and perhaps even more productive, if you could just get your work done on your own schedule instead of your boss’s? New research suggests you’re probably right.

In 2005, the Best Buy headquarters in Richfield, Minnesota, started shifting over to a "results only work environment," or ROWE. Employees could decide when and where they worked as long as they met certain measurable goals. No more Monday-through-Friday or 9-to-5. Want to come in at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday? Great. You don’t even need to notify your manager, as long as you get that report done by the end of the week.

Two University of Minnesota sociology professors, Erin Kelly and Phyllis Moen, recently gathered data from 659 Best Buy employees, both before and after the shift to ROWE. About half of the employees they studied from didn’t switch to ROWE during the study period, providing a control group.

Kelly and Moen—who published their work this week in The Journal of Health and Social Behavior—found that employees who switched to ROWE took better care of themselves. Not only did they get an extra 52 minutes of sleep before workdays on average, they were also less likely to feel obligated to work when sick and more likely to see a doctor when they needed to. And the turnover rate among employees that switched to ROWE was only 6%, compared to 11% with the control group. In addition, their increased sense of schedule control and reduced work-family conflict led to increased self-reported energy levels and decreased psychological distress.

They were healthier and they were also, it seems, more invested. As Moen has described it, "participants reported going to their child’s school play, taking their ailing mother to a doctor, or seeing a doctor themselves—without guilt. Participants described both a sense of freedom and greater responsibility for actually accomplishing results."

The ROWE program was developed at Best Buy by Cali Ressler and Jodi Thompson. They have since gone on to found a consulting shop, CultureRx, that helps other companies switch to ROWE. In 2009, Gap became the second major brand to get on board and several smaller companies have been following suit.

Is it easy to switch? According to Moen, "the hardest part of this for most firms and for managers as well as employees is to clarify what exactly are the results to be achieved." That’s certainly something a smart manager should be doing regardless.

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