Most people understand the importance of worker wellbeing: but getting it right might require a different approach to those often posited
Experts at the British Psychological Association have warned that flexible working could do more harm than good to employees.
Advancements in computing technology has provided staff with the opportunity to access their work anytime, anywhere and is giving rise to a workaholic culture where employees don’t know when to switch off.
This has come from a continued push by businesses and the government to encourage flexible working, which essentially allows employees to complete work within their own time as long as it is to a high standard.
Although the idea of flexible working is to encourage employee motivation and install trust into the workforce, these latest findings actually show that mixing the home environment with work is causing staff to work longer hours.
This is taking a psychological toll and increasing stress levels amongst workers, which is having a negative impact on productivity due to increased absenteeism. It’s been calculated that 10 million working days were lost in the UK alone last year due to work-related stress, which is the opposite effect flexible working is supposed to have.
Putting staff wellbeing first
Companies are now more than ever realising the importance of prioritising worker wellbeing. A happy workforce is a motivated one and this must go beyond simply looking after staff. Although it’s important to offer benefits such as flexible working, monitoring staff wellbeing is set to be one of the biggest trends for 2016.
Technology is going to play a big part in this, as the UK looks to close the productivity gap on other developed nations. For example, wearable devices are currently being developed which allow companies to track the health of their staff by monitoring exercise, food intake, sleep patterns and other health-related information.
Although devices such as GPS trackers are common in industries such as the logistics sector for monitoring driver progress, businesses in other soft-skill environments are now developing more sophisticated systems which monitor sentiment. According to recent research, in 2014 alone over 10,000 companies across the globe offered staff fitness trackers.
Employers now want to use science to not only scrutinise how staff complete tasks in work, but also what they’re doing outside of the working environment that is affecting their performance. As an athlete would monitor their performance routinely, businesses looking to gain a competitive advantage are utilising technologies that can be used to monitor staff wellbeing and boost workplace productivity.
Managing work-life balance
After a big push on flexible working, businesses are now trialling measures such as banning employees from checking emails outside of working hours and shortening the working day.
A shorter working day is of course no new phenomenon, especially in Scandinavian countries where many companies have introduced them in order to create a more productive workforce.
For example, business leaders in Sweden believe that it is difficult for staff to concentrate to an optimum level for eight hours per day. Therefore, by trimming the working day to just six hours, this means that workers are more focused and can complete work tasks more efficiently.
Although the data to support a shorter working day is variable in terms of the benefits and whether it increases employee output, it’s certain that ensuring staff can have a healthy work-life balance is important for overall happiness. We know that a motivated workforce is a happy one and vice versa, so companies need to tackle these latest findings head-on.
While flexible or home working is not always feasible in heavy-duty industries, but in softer skill environments where companies have already adopted a flexible working structure, they now need to ensure that this isn’t negatively impacting staff.
An attractive workplace
The research by the British Psychological Association also showed that social inactivity was one of the big issues associated with working away from a populated office part or full time. Businesses are now looking for ways to attract employees back into the workplace by ensuring the design of the space caters for multiple working styles and needs.
This includes providing offices where there is plenty of opportunity to collaborate and concentrate. This means that the office space needs to have multi-use rooms as well as silent rooms which allow staff to focus on cognitively challenging tasks that require complete focus and minimal distractions.
While open-plan spaces are great for collaborative working and ideas-sharing, noise pollution is one of the contributors that has increased the drive for home working. It is those employers that invest in a workplace design and find a balance between collaboration and concentration that will ultimately prosper and not only attract existing staff back into the workplace but also new talent.
Businesses that operate a flexible working policy must take action now to ensure that it isn’t negatively affecting workers’ health. While there are multiple benefits that come with flexible working, businesses that invest in their worker wellbeing policies will reap the benefits by increasing staff motivation and, in turn, productivity.
Nigel Crunden is a business specialist at Office Depot