Is flexible working the answer to workplace stress? 

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Matt Ephgrave, MD at Just Eat for Business, discussed the results of his company’s recent survey about stress at work.

Work-related stress has skyrocketed in recent years and data suggest that a huge 17.9 million working days were lost to stress, anxiety or depression in 2019/20. This not only highlights workplace stress’ sheer scale, but also that it was rife long before the pandemic struck.

We ran our own survey at Just Eat for Business of 300 UK workers, to understand their views on stress at work. One thing was clear – finding a work life balance in 2022 was hard. One third of respondents found maintaining a work life balance the most stressful thing about work and just under a third (26%) said meeting deadlines and dealing with workload were the most stressful inducing tasks.

Now that the pandemic has catapulted us into a new way of working, it’s become all the more apparent that as business leaders, we need to move with the times and think how we can reduce our employees’ stress. It may not be what we’re working on that is the cause of this, but perhaps when and how we work. We need to think, does the classic 9-5 work for everyone? Are traditional working models the most productive in 2022? In order to answer this, you can implement flexibility into your working model, in order to test whether it really is how you work that influences employee stress levels, and in turn, productivity.

Here are three ways you can implement flexibility into your employee’s working schedule.

Listen to what staff want, at home and in the office

When workplace stress builds over time, it can affect relationships outside of work, energy levels and mental health. To support your teams, you’ll need to continue to be flexible and responsive to people’s needs as we navigate the ‘new normal’ and listen to what they want.

Over two-thirds of respondents reported that flexible working policies could significantly improve their stress levels at work. Feeling listened to, heard and considered will go a long way in easing workplace stress, so creating 1 2 1 meeting times to speak to your employees or creating a survey for them to voice their opinions are all ways of reaching out to staff – and just this very act is essential in knowing that you care.

Create flexible working schedules

We now need to question: are the traditional 9-5 working hours necessary? They may not account for childcare duties or for different people’s working styles. One worker may work exceptionally well in the morning, but by the afternoon productivity levels may drop. It’s not a case of reducing hours, rather reallocating the hours to a time in the day that suits your employees. Creating a trial of flexible hours and schedules can monitor whether when employees try out their own hours to match their preferences, productivity is maximised.

In our survey, almost 40% (39%) of employees said they would like to trial a four-day work week. This is another way to offer flexibility to your teams, allowing them more time to achieve a work-life balance. Whilst this seems appealing, it may not necessarily address the fact that some team members work well in the morning nor decrease any workloads causing stress. The key to this is trialling, trying out different ways of working – and your employees will appreciate it too.

Treat flexibility as a work essential, not a perk

Think back to pre-pandemic, and flexible working was a luxury. As we shift our mindset with the world of work changing, we also need to shift how we perceive flexible working. We should no longer treat it as a perk, but a way of every day working. With employees knowing that this is an everyday aspect of their lives will relieve pressures and feelings of stress – giving employees the freedom to conduct their days how they work most productively.

A flexible future

Alleviating workplace stress has become high on the agenda for business leaders in 2022 – applying flexibility into working practice can be an effective way of ensuring employees don’t become overwhelmed with their tasks and day-to-day life. The key is knowing what is right for your business and your employees. Flexibility as a concept is also flexible so the level of flexibility that is right for your company will be found over time, leading to a happy workplace.

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    Marja Toseland

    All stories by: Marja Toseland