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Number of stressed employees trebles if they have inflexible hours, according to Kenexa High Performance Institute

The number of workers reporting unreasonable levels of stress is more than three times higher if their working hours were inflexible, according to research by the Kenexa High Performance Institute (KHPI).

Key findings of the KHPI research reveal 68% of respondents with inflexible work schedules reported unreasonable work stress and just 20% of respondents with flexible work schedules reported unreasonable stress.

The KHPI research also showed that a lack of flexibility in the workplace is having an impact on intentions to leave; 59% of respondents with inflexible work schedules claimed they were looking to leave in the next 12 months, compared to just 22% of respondents with flexible work schedules.

This research indicates that organisations providing more flexibility around work schedules will see benefits in terms of reduced stress in the workplace.

"With 57% of businesses planning to adapt their working hours during the Olympics, we're likely to see an overall reduction in stress levels. This is contrary to reports that workers in London will see stress levels rise from the Olympics," said Rena Rasch, research director of KHPI.

"Stress is associated with a wide range of health problems, which can increase absenteeism and reduce an employee's ability to focus. Flexing work schedules should be possible in the vast majority of cases, particularly with the technology we have today to keep in touch."

Technology is one of the three key pillars that have contributed to the success of flexible working at Unilever.

Chris Raia, Unilever's global agile working practices leader, said: "We've implemented a lot of new technologies in two categories: the first we call advanced mobility, which means the ability to get your data from anywhere and get your job done, this includes great laptops or smartphone devices.

"The second technology group is called virtual collaboration technology, which is things like Microsoft Lync, Skype, Communicator - the technologies that allow people to communicate virtually from distributed sites."

Flexible working also requires a high degree of trust between employer and employee. Cirkle PR chairman, Caroline Kinsey, offers all her workers completely flexible hours: "Flexibility and trust is at the heart of our agency. People can shift their working day to the hours that suit them in order to minimise stress levels. To fit in with family commitments or to avoid the rush-hour traffic, for example, some people come in at 7am and leave at 4pm without any guilt.

"The majority of staff works at home on a Friday to eliminate the stress of commuting altogether. We are just as committed to delivering for our clients as any other business, the difference is that we don't believe it should be about the hours you put into work, but rather the work you put into the hours. An impressive financial track record and outstanding staff and client retention levels are tribute to how successfully this works for us."