The Case for Flexible Work Schedules

By Christine Fallabel

COVID-19 has completely changed the way Americans live, work, and play. The pandemic has sent over 100 million people home to work in a safe, socially-distanced way. It has parents educating children from their living rooms, YouTube videos serving as exercise classes, and midday walks for the puppies an easier feat (dogs everywhere have reported that they’re thrilled with this development).

After adjusting to this new normal for over four months, people are stepping back and questioning what parts of “normal” are worth returning to. While there are plenty of logistical nightmares associated with quarantining during a pandemic (what happens when daycare centers close? What happens when you and your spouse have a Skype call at the same time, and only one workspace in your apartment?), there is a lot to be gleaned from this period, too. 

Many people have reported that life, as we used-to-know-it, wasn’t fantastic: Long commutes, lack of sleep, no time for exercise, and children that they barely got to see, for starters. For some, the pandemic has changed that: People are focusing on their families more than ever (by default or command, who’s to say), they’re cooking at home and eating healthier, they’re finding the time to exercise. 

Essential employees, such as healthcare and hospital workers, grocery shop clerks, sanitation crews, and city workers, are still required to report in person. For others, such as those in the service and retail industries, the guidelines for how to return to work safely are still being negotiated around the nation.

But for those who can work from home, some wonder if they want to ever return to office life. The change can be especially beneficial for people living with type 1 diabetes and other chronic conditions that take up a lot of time, effort, and mental energy. 

Diabetes and the remote working experience

The main facets of management for type 1 diabetes include intensive insulin therapy, diet, and exercise (these are among many factors, including sleep, managing stress, having social and cultural support), and managing them all takes time and thoughtful intention. And while a daily takeaway Chinese food order, and skipping the gym for months at a time to make a 2-hour commute don’t support healthy diabetes management, flexible work schedules do. Flexible work schedules afford us both time and space to make thoughtful management decisions for our diabetes. 

Andrew Yang recently stated that he supports four day work weeks to improve people’s mental health, which quickly went viral across America.  Studies have shown that four day work weeks increase worker satisfaction and productivity. In a pilot experiment, Microsoft’s Japan subsidiary reported a 40% boost in productivity after making the switch.

A study in the UK found that 64 percent of business leaders with four day work weeks saw an increase in staff productivity, while 77 percent of employees linked it to a better quality of life. This can also decrease staff turnover, make for happier employees, and save companies money.

T1D Exchange Glu polled its users through its Question of the Day, asking what the return-to-work plan was for people with T1D. 28% said they plan to work remotely, while 19% stated they would return with social distancing and masking. You can give your response here!

During the current pandemic, this is even more important, as people require greater flexibility in schedules to meet the growing demands of occupying and educating their children at home, dealing with sick or quarantined family members, managing mental health issues, and juggling the unstable economy and what that means for their family.

 How working from home could benefit workers everywhere

But a four-day workweek and flexible, at-home work schedules wouldn’t just benefit individual workers and companies, it would boost the economy — something that is sorely needed with 40 million people out of work, and the stock market on shaky ground.

Flexible work schedules and four-day workweeks could support domestic tourism, and help alleviate worries around proper social distancing, as it’s easier if a portion of a city’s population is off on a Tuesday-Thursday or Monday-Wednesday (as well as Saturday and Sunday for many), instead of everyone slamming grocery stores, post offices, gyms, and shopping malls on the weekends.

But what if flexible work schedules also served to make Americans, and especially people living with diabetes, healthier? The United States spends more on health care than any other country in the world — $3.5 trillion on health care in 2017, more than twice the average among developed countries.

Much of the spending is allocated to Medicaid and Medicare to treat preventable disease: Heart disease is the number 1 cause of death in the United States and is (not coincidentally) also a  top cause of death for people living with diabetes.

 As we all know, managing diabetes is extremely time-intensive, as we concern ourselves with counting every carbohydrate eaten, managing exercise and stress, getting sufficient sleep, filling prescription medications, seeing specialists, and navigating the world of insurance- all of these things, when not done properly, can lead to higher HbA1c values and worse health outcomes, and complications, over time. But having the time, space, and energy for sleep, exercise, and healthy eating could reverse these trends, if implemented on a grand scale. 

What if, because of this catastrophic pandemic, we took a lesson from New Zealand, whose Prime Minister suggests a four-day workweek, or most of Europe, that routinely works fewer hours than Americans? What if we focused more on our mental and physical health? What if we were better able to balance work and family life? What if we had the time to properly manage our diabetes, without always rushing out the door?

What if we chose to work to live and not the other way around? What if we realized that the path to a happier, healthier life was right here all along, but we were too busy working to see it? This doesn’t beg the question, “why,” but rather, “why not?”

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