The Real Impact of Flexible Work on Mental Health

3 min read
Impact of Flexible Work on Mental Health

In today’s evolving workplace, the discussion on flexible work arrangements and their impact on mental health is critical and timely. Groundbreaking research conducted by Professor Mark Ma and his graduate student Yuye Ding at the University of Pittsburgh in 2023, examining data across multiple U.S. states involving over 5 million mental health screens, brings new insights into how the structure of workplace flexibility can significantly influence mental well-being. The findings underscore a pressing need for a strategic reevaluation of work environments in the post-pandemic era.

Skeptical Perspectives on the Impact of Flexible Work on Mental Health

The heart of this debate is whether remote or hybrid models contribute to or detract from employees’ mental health. While flexibility in work arrangements has been praised for allowing employees to avoid long commutes and manage work-life balance more effectively, skeptics argue that such arrangements might lead to increased feelings of isolation and blurred boundaries between work and home life. 

For instance, according to a 2022 US Chamber of Commerce survey of 403 executives, 64% of executives said that remote work had anywhere from a major to a minor negative impact on their employees’ mental health, up from 55% saying that in 2021. And a survey by the American Psychiatric Association in 2021 found that the majority of employees working from home say they experienced negative mental health impacts, including isolation, loneliness, and difficulty getting away from work at the end of the day.

However, as the University of Pittsburgh scholars point out, such research stems from the period of enforced social isolation due to the pandemic. It’s very likely that the loneliness and isolation identified previously with remote work decreased – or in some cases, completely disappeared – once people started going out and meeting with friends and family, and engaging in various social, civic, and community activities. Moreover, prior studies relied on survey data of self-reported mental health, as opposed to mental health risk measured based on professional assessments. 

New Study on the Impact of Flexible Work on Mental Health

The University of Pittsburgh study, unlike previous studies, drew on state-level depression and suicide risk data from Mental Health America, which collects data from over 5 million professional assessment mental health screens taken by US users at For each state, Mental Health America calculates the percentage of individuals with severe depression and suicide risk. The University of Pittsburgh scholars also used data on the percentage of firms that offer workplace flexibility in each state during 2023 from the Scoop Flex Index Report. 

Combining these two sources, the new study from the University of Pittsburgh reveals significant findings for 2023, the first year we can truly say the pandemic was largely over: states with a higher percentage of flexible firms show considerably lower rates of depression. The correlation is robust, with depression rates in states with a higher degree of flexibility showing a negative correlation coefficient to depression of -0.389 and a p-value of 0.012, suggesting a strong inverse relationship. In other words, this data compellingly argues that having greater flexibility strongly facilitates mental wellness. 

The variation among states is in some cases dramatic. Mississippi, a state where only 52 percent of employers allow either hybrid or remote work (the lowest of all 50 states) has a rate of depression about 50 percent higher than that of Massachusetts, which has the highest degree of flexibility (offered by 84 percent of all employers).

Some states that seem similar in most respects diverge in this study. For example, in South Carolina, 66 percent of all firms offer flexibility, and in North Carolina, 71 percent do so. The state with greater flexibility has a 17 percent lower rate of depression. In Ohio, 65 percent of all employers provide hybrid or remote work opportunities for employees, whereas the comparable number for Pennsylvania is 73 percent. Pennsylvania has 12 percent less depression.

They also separated states into three groups, ones with high, median, or low levels of flexibility, respectively. They found that states with high or median flexibility levels had 3-4% lower depression rates than those with low flexibility in 2023. 

What Explains the Positive Impact of Flexible Work on Mental Health

While the study establishes a clear correlation, it’s important to explore the possible mechanisms through which workplace flexibility improves mental health. Several factors likely contribute to this positive effect. One possibility is reduced stress, since flexible work arrangements help alleviate stress associated with commuting, rigid schedules, and work-life imbalance. This allows employees to better manage their time, responsibilities, and personal needs, leading to reduced stress levels and improved mental well-being.

Another positive factor for well-being involves increased autonomy and control. Flexibility empowers employees with a sense of control over their work environment and schedule. This autonomy fosters feelings of ownership and responsibility, leading to increased job satisfaction and reduced stress.

The ability to adjust work schedules and locations allows employees to better integrate their professional and personal lives, facilitating work-life balance. This leads to improved satisfaction with both work and personal life, contributing to overall well-being.

Finally, flexible work arrangements help those with mental health challenges, creating a more supportive work environment. Employees feel more comfortable seeking help and taking time for self-care without fear of judgment or repercussions.


As we continue to navigate this new normal, the insights provided by such research are invaluable. They not only help in shaping policies that are in tune with contemporary work-life dynamics but also ensure that these policies contribute positively to the mental health of the workforce. Embracing flexibility offers a crucial element to building more resilient and adaptive organizations in the post-pandemic world.

Therefore, leaders need to consider flexible work not just as a necessity borne out of a global crisis but as an opportunity to fundamentally rethink and improve our work environments. The goal should be clear: to design work models that promote both high productivity and strong mental health, thereby creating workplaces that are not only more humane but also more effective.

Key Take-Away

New research by the University of Pittsburgh shows that states with higher workplace flexibility have significantly lower rates of depression, highlighting the positive impact of flexible work on mental health. Share on X

Image credit: Mikhail Nilov/pexels

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky was lauded as “Office Whisperer” and “Hybrid Expert” by The New York Times for helping leaders use hybrid work to improve retention and productivity while cutting costs. He serves as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. Dr. Gleb wrote the first book on returning to the office and leading hybrid teams after the pandemic, his best-seller Returning to the Office and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage (Intentional Insights, 2021). He authored seven books in total, and is best know for his global bestseller, Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (Career Press, 2019). His cutting-edge thought leadership was featured in over 650 articles and 550 interviews in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, USA Today, CBS News, Fox News, Time, Business Insider, Fortune, and elsewhere. His writing was translated into Chinese, Korean, German, Russian, Polish, Spanish, French, and other languages. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training for Fortune 500 companies from Aflac to Xerox. It also comes from over 15 years in academia as a behavioral scientist, with 8 years as a lecturer at UNC-Chapel Hill and 7 years as a professor at Ohio State. A proud Ukrainian American, Dr. Gleb lives in Columbus, Ohio. In his free time, he makes sure to spend abundant quality time with his wife to avoid his personal life turning into a disaster. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, follow him on LinkedIn @dr-gleb-tsipursky, Twitter @gleb_tsipursky, Instagram @dr_gleb_tsipursky, Facebook @DrGlebTsipursky, Medium @dr_gleb_tsipursky, YouTube, and RSS, and get a free copy of the Assessment on Dangerous Judgment Errors in the Workplace by signing up for the free Wise Decision Maker Course at