Matt Ephgrave outlines how businesses can utilise flexible working to their advantage to help employees manage stress, increase employee engagement and retention.

The HSE (Health Safety Executive) defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’. A huge 17.9 million working days were lost to stress, anxiety or depression in 2019/20 which shows that even before the external pressure of the pandemic weighed in, stress at work was rife.

A survey we conducted at Just Eat for Business listened to UK workers’ experiences of stress at work and found many clear takeaways. One of which being that one-third of respondents find maintaining a work-life balance the most stressful thing about work and over two-thirds said implementing flexible working policies could significantly improve their stress levels.

The findings on flexibility are unsurprising given that many UK workers are now adapting to a hybrid working model. However, the true question is around how flexible these working models are. Plus, if they’re made more flexible, could employees feel happier, more energised and motivated, and in turn become more productive?

The pandemic has taught us that the world of work is ever-changing and employees are increasingly aware of what’s important to them. As business leaders, it’s our responsibility to listen to how they’re feeling and adapt accordingly to keep a happy, engaged workforce. If it’s more flexibility they require, then we need to think how we can provide this. Here are some options that we can explore in the future to alleviate stress and promote happiness at work.

 

Explore the 4-day week (or more flexible hours) 

In response to ‘what would you change about your working environment to reduce stress?’ One in four (39%) said they would trial a four-day working week, and 15 percent said they would switch to flexible arrangements.

Whilst these options may be challenging for some companies to achieve, it paints a clear picture on the actions that employees value for minimising stress. To support our teams, we need to continue to monitor how we can accommodate flexible working patterns to fit in with our employees’ lives and needs. For example, you could trial a shift in working hours to suit childcare requirements, testing whether levels of productivity are the same (or even higher). The key to flexible working is to remember it doesn’t mean less work, it just means a shift in working habits – and is most likely to have a positive effect on return, plus a happier, more focused workforce. It’ll also go a long way by way of appreciation of staff as they feel listened to, alleviating further stress.

 

Focus on culture and relationships

Fostering and maintaining peer relationships at work is paramount for supporting employees and helping to minimise stress at work. Over a third of UK workers said they didn’t feel comfortable voicing their feelings of stress at work – but double that amount (66%) said that workplace stress has extended into their personal lives. This shows that people are crying out for a culture of openness and flexibility so that they’re able to confide in managers and support colleagues. In turn, this stress is then less likely to extend outside of work and become consuming of their lives. As a result, employees will feel happier, less burdened and more able to maintain a work life balance (something that one third said they found difficult keeping afloat).

Creating this culture of openness can be approached in a few ways. Perhaps you could ensure that regular casual social occasions are planned for employees to gather, eat lunch together and chat away from their desks. Again, be flexible – not all will be in the office so make sure that you’re accommodating for those at home too. Investing in the right technology will ensure that people feel comfortable to be at home and will appreciate that you’re considering their situation – feeling less isolated, concerned and awkward about being away from the office.

A further method is setting time to speak to line managers to discuss how your employee wants to work, discussing how flexible they want their arrangements to be and having an open conversation about how realistic it is, all whilst ensuring it’s right for the business too.

 

The future is flexible

Workplace stress affects people of all ages and in all roles, so it’s up to businesses to be proactive in managing stress in the workplace. Provisions that focus on prevention or early intervention, such as regular check-ins and wellbeing support, is key to managing this. We need to invest in things that support people individually, as well as activities that bring teams together and socialise. Employers need to ensure that everyone feels comfortable enough to reach out for help with stress, no matter what their position is, to create a happy and unified workplace.

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Matt Ephgrave is Just Eat for Business’ Managing Director. With renowned experience in hybrid and marketplace businesses, Ephgrave was previously the COO of Festicket, the world’s largest festival travel platform.

 

Editor at HRreview

Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview. With a master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.