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By Brie Weiler Reynolds, FlexJobs Senior Career Specialist

Mental health and work are intertwined. Work can cause and exacerbate mental health issues, but it can also act as a support mechanism. Flexible work options, in particular, have a lot to offer in supporting mental health at work and in life.

In fact, the impact that work flexibility (things like remote work, flexible hours, and reduced schedules) can have is so great that 97% of people say that having a more flexible job would have a “huge” or “positive” impact on their quality of life. That’s according to a 2018 survey of over 3,000 professionals we conducted at FlexJobs.

The survey also found that work-life balance and commute-related stress are two of the top factors that make people want a job with flexible options. Sixteen percent of the people who took the survey self-identified as living with a chronic physical or mental illness, the fifth-largest identity group out of 17 choices. Another 10% identified as caregivers of someone with a physical or mental health issue.

For people with mental health concerns, caregivers, and professionals at large, flexible work options can help support our efforts to improve the mental health of ourselves and those around us.

Here are some of the most interesting and, perhaps, surprising, ways flexible work can positively affect mental health.

Reducing Work-Related Stress

Even if a person delights in their daily work tasks, the general process Americans go through just to get to and from work every day can take a toll on mental health. The average commute time in the U.S. is almost 27 minutes each way. But according to our survey, people who are interested in flexible work options have even longer commutes: 73% said they have had round-trip commutes of an hour or more. And 71% said they’d like to work from home in order to reduce commute-related stress.

Respondents also said that remote work could help them reduce stress and improve productivity by reducing distractions during the work day (75%) and interruptions from colleagues (74%), keeping them out of office politics (65%), allowing for a quieter work environment (60%), and giving them a more comfortable (52%) and personalized (46%) work environment.

More Job Opportunities in Economically Disadvantaged Areas

Those living in rural or economically struggling areas may miss a key piece of the human experience: engaging in the workforce in a meaningful, long-term way. Living through the decline of an industry or long-term high unemployment can negatively affect mental health. High rates of depression and anxiety are found in rural areas, especially among older adults who have often had their lives greatly affected by their community’s economic decline.

Remote work, in particular, shows huge promise when it comes to bringing people in these situations back into the workforce. FlexJobs is partnering with economic development organizations in Kentucky, Colorado, Utah, and other rural areas throughout the country to assist residents in finding remote opportunities and the residents talk about the positive impact they’re already experiencing through remote work.

One resident of rural Jackson County Kentucky, Jennifer, now works as an online teacher for VIPKID. She explained her experience before finding remote work: “My husband and I both have college degrees. But there’s not enough money to go around, not enough jobs to go around. It looked pretty gloomy for a while.”

Because of her remote teaching job, Jennifer says, “It’s great to be making a change and to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Making Health and Wellness a Bigger Focus

Professionals put a huge amount of time, energy, and focus towards work every day. By offering flexible work options, companies are signaling to their employees that they can and should devote more time to health and wellness. That’s likely why 77% of those we surveyed said flexible work options would help them be healthier.

The other top factors that make people want a flexible job, in addition to work-life balance and commute stress, were family and time savings. The constant pull that people feel between time spent with family and time spent at work can affect mental health, and flexible work options allow those priorities to co-exist more peacefully.

And this isn’t just a benefit for employees--companies also benefit when their workers are healthier! As a Mental Health America study of 17,000 employees found, employees in unhealthy workplaces are likely to experience higher stress and lower engagement and these feelings actually spread throughout the workplace, negatively affecting workplace culture.

Companies that give employees more control over when, where, and how they work through flexible work options are supporting the health and wellness of their workers and enhancing the company’s culture and productivity at the same time.