Mary Mercer: Does flexible working reduce stress?

Flexible working can reduce stress, but only if it meets organisational demand

Flexible working, when first developed as the concept of work-life balance, had at its heart the ability of the employee to control their working life and reduce stress. A range of organisations that measured employee stress levels before introducing work-life balance programmes and then remeasured the stress levels of flexible workers, found reductions in stress levels and in stress-related absence.

However, in those early days, less attention was paid to the types of flexible working that really suited the organisation, and some found themselves with staffing patterns badly matched to levels of demand. This created stress.

Today, more organisations have got to grips with ensuring flexible working patterns suit both employee and employer, and flexible working continues to enable staff to control their working lives more effectively. But this is not true for all. Men are more likely to have requests for flexible working turned down, and staff who work flexibly are less likely to be given the top performance grades despite managersā€™ anecdotal evidence that they are productive and committed. This is because many managers still consider the visibility and long hours staff work when rating performance. So flexible workers can find themselves with stalled careers.

Flexible working can reduce stress, but only if it meets organisational demand, is available to all employees and judged on whether it matches the organisationā€™s needs.

– Mary Mercer, principal consultant at the Institute for Employment Studies (IES)

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