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Although the COVID-19 public health emergency is officially behind us, one pandemic-era development appears to be here to stay.
As of May 2023, about 60 percent of full-time, paid workers in the United States worked entirely on-site. The remainder either worked remotely or had a hybrid arrangement that involved a combination of remote and on-site work. In addition, many employees have a compressed workweek in which they work longer hours, but on fewer days.
This leaves employers struggling to get the information they need about the benefits and drawbacks of these flexible work arrangements so they can develop policies and practices related to this “new normal.”
The study, by Taehyun Roh, PhD, and Nishat Tasnim Hasan, PhD, from the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics; Chukwuemeka Esomonu, PhD, Joseph Hendricks, PhD, and Mark Benden, PhD, CPE, from the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health; and graduate student Anisha Aggarwal from the Department of Health Behavior, was published in a recent issue of PLOS ONE.
“Most studies of worker productivity use employee self-reports, supervisory evaluations or wearable technology, but these can be subjective and invasive,” said Benden, professor and head of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. “Instead, we used computer usage metrics—things like typing speed, typing errors and mouse activity—to get objective, noninvasive data on computer work patterns.”
The researchers looked at the computer usage metrics of 789 office-based employees in a large energy company in Texas over a two-year period. They compared computer usage patterns across different days of the week and times of the day.
“We found that computer use increased during the week, then dropped significantly on Fridays,” said Roh, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. “People typed more words and had more mouse movement, mouse clicks and scrolls every day from Monday through Thursday, then less of this activity on Friday.”
In addition, computer use decreased every afternoon, and especially on Friday afternoon.
“Employees were less active in the afternoons and made more typos in the afternoons—especially on Fridays,” Roh said. “This aligns with similar findings that the number of tasks workers complete increases steadily from Monday through Wednesday, then decreases on Thursday and Friday.”
What is the takeaway for employers? For one thing, flexible work arrangements, such as hybrid work or a four-day workweek, may lead to happier and more productive employees.
“Other studies have found that those who work from home or work fewer days have less stress from commuting, workplace politics and other factors, and thus have more job satisfaction,” Benden said. “These arrangements give workers more time with their families and thus reduce work-family conflicts, and also give them more time for exercise and leisure activities, which have been shown to improve both physical and mental health.”
“And now, the findings from our study can further help business leaders as they identify strategies to optimize work performance and workplace sustainability,” Benden said.
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