Working flexibly can cut stress

By Donna McIntyre

Productivity improves with happier staff, writes Donna McIntyre.

Prolonged or profound stress becomes counter-productive. Photo / Stockbyte
Prolonged or profound stress becomes counter-productive. Photo / Stockbyte

While we are not the most highly stressed workers in the world, workplace stress does affect many people throughout New Zealand, and that impacts on how we perform both at work and outside of working hours.

Workplace stress is a complex issue. Online information at www.osh.govt.nz's "Healthy Work: Managing Stress in the Workplace" advises employers to look out for signs of stress in the workplace, and also suggests employees experiencing stress communicate that to their superiors.

And stress can be caused by myriad factors, some related to work, some within the worker's personal life.

A study conducted by Regus, provider of flexible workspaces, questioned 16,000 professionals worldwide, including 54 NZ respondents, on stress levels in their lives, the main reasons for stress and possible solutions.

Regus then used the survey results to look at ways the services it provides can help reduce stress within organisations.

While some stress, such as a new challenge or meeting a deadline, can be good for us; prolonged or profound stress becomes counter-productive for individuals and organisations.

We can take heart, though, that Australia and NZ are among the least stressed countries, in comparison with China where 75 per cent of workers surveyed said their stress levels have risen in the past year.

John Henderson, director of Regus Asia Pacific, says, "Customers were the top cause for stress, with 54 per cent saying this was the main reason.

"Fifty-one per cent said personal finances were the cause and 39 per cent said it was because of their jobs.

"This means workplace stress is high, which is a concern for businesses."

The cost of stress to businesses arises when stressed employees want days off. That can lead to absenteeism and more sick leave. Also, stress can create high staff turnover, which in turn has a negative effect for businesses.

"Stress is different for the individual and it can lead to a variety of problems which can mean a lack of sleep and focus at work, poor eating habits and so on," says Henderson.

"But the main problem with stressed-out workers is that they are unhappy, which can lead to a downturn in productivity. This is an issue which can have a negative spiral for both the worker and the business."

Where Regus comes into the picture is by providing shared or separate office spaces, mail, technology, secretarial and telephone services. It offers office spaces and services in 550 cities in 96 countries.

"The ways in which people are working is definitely changing, flexibility for people has become very important and businesses are identifying that. Our latest research shows that companies find flexibility benefits the business and the worker - with 77 per cent saying it leads to an increase in productivity and a further 77 per cent saying that it is more family friendly."

However, he realises having home-based employees doesn't suit every market sector or employer.

"Some employers can be controlling and want to see employees at their desk from 9 to 5. However, if someone is sitting at a desk all day, it doesn't mean they are being productive. Giving the employee more trust and control in the ways they work can ultimately create happier employees and in turn a more productive business.

"I think the monitoring by employers of flexible work is really up to the employer.

"Trust in your employees is a big and important aspect of any job, and communication is a vital tool in any business; so finding the best ways to communicate with each other clearly will keep everyone on the same page.

"Monitoring is important but businesses need to ensure trust in their workers and that they have the necessary tools they need to work from home. Those who are working flexibly and are making a success of it are the ones that give their employees freedom - anecdotally, the story we hear time and again is that 'as long as the work gets done, the employer is happy'," says Henderson.

"Commuting can be stressful. Working from home can benefit some employees, not only working parents but for people who are living rurally and have a long commute. We did a study looking at commute times and results showed that 31 per cent of businesses in New Zealand were trying to reduce commute times for workers because they believed this would allow them to be more productive. From a further study, 33 per cent said if they didn't have to commute to work each day they would spend their extra time working."

He says with Regus' business centres in Auckland and Wellington, some workers choose those locations because they are closer to their homes instead of their head office. In turn this can help reduce stress.

"Businesses can also save on costs because, through using our centres, they are paying for less office space."


Less travel, less stress

An office in Queen St, the use of other offices around the world, and being able to concentrate on his work rather than worrying about office administration.

That arrangement suits technical consultant Simon Williams, who works for British-based LightFoot Solutions, a company specialising in statistical analysis of data to improve performance within organisations.

"As a remote worker, it's a low hassle and it saves admin. It's also a very professional environment to have clients in," he said.

"I have somewhere clean and tidy and it's always available. I have a pass to get into the building and a key for my office."

He can use any of Regus' centres around the world when he is travelling because each centre has several hot-seat places.

"It's a slightly funny way that they invoice because for every three months that you pay for, you get one free. My monthly fee is $3947 for this private, three-man office with a view of Rangitoto, there's a bit of a premium for that. There are two desks and instead of a third desk I have this meeting table, that's all provided. On top of that you pay a bit more for telecoms, IT and a small charge for the kitchen."

- NZ Herald

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