How to manage stress
• Get some exercise every day
• Sleep well - most adults need 7-9 hours a night
• Do something you enjoy
• Eat well
• Learn some relaxation techniques
• Make lists to manage time better

Kiwi bosses are being urged to introduce flexi-hours and allow employees to work from home in a bid to help stressed-out staff - and increase productivity.

An online survey for health insurer Southern Cross found that 59 per cent of New Zealanders feel stressed at least once a week.

The top five causes of stress were: having enough money, cited by 35 per cent; workload, 35 per cent; work/life balance, 31 per cent; staying fit and healthy, 24 per cent; and work deadlines, 23 per cent.

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If we can take more stress out of an employee's day they are going to be more productive

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Stress is a normal part of life and can help us perform well, but if it gets out of control it can contribute to a range of health problems, from headaches and sleeping problems to heart disease, diabetes and mental health disorders.

A separate online survey of 18,000 people, The Rest Test, found that 65 per cent wanted more rest. From a long list of restful activities, reading was most popular, followed by being in the natural environment, being on your own, listening to music, and doing nothing in particular.

The findings of the Southern Cross survey of around 2000 people, done by TNS, reflect a study of businesses last year which found 29 per cent reported staff stress levels were rising.

"Not only does stress bring down productivity and engagement at work, it also tends to lead to health issues in the long run," said Southern Cross Health Society chief executive Peter Tynan.

To help reduce stress, Southern Cross can permit staff to work from home and come into the office on flexible hours. Its wellness programme runs seminars on a range of topics, including personal finance, resilience and mindfulness, as well as yoga and tai chi sessions.

Tynan encouraged other businesses to follow this approach which, he said, led to increased staff satisfaction, loyalty and reduced stress.

"We get more-engaged people. If we can take more stress out of an employee's day they are going to be more productive."

"But there's no one-size-fits-all programme for how you can best support your staff. It's important to talk to your workforce about their issues and put a plan in place that's relevant to them."

Danielle Meyer, 38, an employee of Southern Cross' risk, finance and compliance team, has taken full advantage of the wellness programme and flexi-hours.

A married mother of two girls aged 8 and 9, Meyer said she started and finished work late so she could take them to school. And if one was off school sick, she could care for her while working from home.

She has worked at Southern Cross for two years and contrasts it to her previous job at a start-up research and development company; and an earlier one at which her boss was a bully, a "hideous environment" that led to Meyer experiencing anxiety, headaches and sleep issues.

"As soon as I got to Southern Cross I was blown away how much they invest in their staff. Moving there I wanted a bit-more-normal, 9-to-5-ish job. The whole package was a lot less stressful."