· 2 min read · Features

Workplace stress? It’s not all about the hours

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The number of part time workers in the UK is soaring and while that may sound like a sensible move by companies looking to carefully manage staff costs in a time of austerity, the change is being driven as much by cultural factors as financial concerns.

Recent research from Women Like Us claimed businesses needing to cut staffing costs accounted for just 19% of the growth in part time employees, while more than a quarter (26%) was down to businesses readdressing the way they look at working hours, potentially with a view to staff striking a more favourable work-life balance.

It is encouraging to see such developments but it also sends out a worrying message, suggesting that the only way to change our work life balance is to change the number of hours in the day we work. But what about those workers who want to work full time? How do they achieve a better work life balance?

The past decade has seen a major shift in attitudes towards working culture, with an increasing number of people seeking alternatives to the traditional nine-to-five.

A survey from Orange of over 2,000 employees in late 2010 found 74% of businesses are considering or plan to introduce flexible working options during 2011.

This change has been so great that flexible working is no longer considered a 'nice to have', but for many in-demand staff it is a deal clincher when accepting a new job. Given the tough economic climate and shortage of high quality staff switching roles in a recession, it has never been more critical for companies to attract and only employ the best possible employees.

When Orange spoke with 1,000 university leavers last June, more than half (53%) said they expected flexible working as standard when they begin their jobs, with two-thirds (69%) stressing that the option to work flexibly was important to them.

This shift in attitude can be attributed to a range of factors including Government initiatives which, in particular, aim to help parents and carers find a more flexible way of working that suits their needs. Technology has also played a defining role in facilitating those employees who want to work away from the office. The wide range of mobile devices now on offer, such as smart phones, laptops and tablets, such as the iPad, as well as the improved availability of WiFi and mobile broadband, means employees don't have to be in the office in order to stay in contact with their colleagues.

And flexible working is not just about improving staff morale, there are tangible business benefits on offer to those companies that adopt flexible working initiatives, such as improved staff productivity.

After all, we've all been in the situation where all you need is a bit of peace and quiet to write a report or review a document, but all the office can offer us is a barrage of emails, colleague enquiries and phone calls. Working away from the office can allow us the space to think and 82 per cent of employees feel that it helps them to get more work done .

Flexible working is not just about working away from the office, it is also about being able to work in the way that is most productive. For example field sales workers or those in healthcare who make home visits can increase their workload considerably if they can file reports and paperwork when travelling between meetings, rather than returning to the office to do so.

So, whether you're considering working away from the office or changing your working day, the key message is that there is an option for everyone and full time workers can achieve the same benefits from a better work-life balance as part time employees. However, businesses need to support their employees and provide them with the right tools and support to enable flexible working. After all, they will ultimately benefit from happier, more productive staff.

Martin Lyne, SME Director at Orange