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Stress undermining job quality

Over-work, stress and poor work/life balance are undermining attempts to improve job quality in the UK, according to research from the CIPD

In its annual UK Working Lives survey poor work/life balance was identified as a particular problem. Employees admitted that their jobs had caused disruption to family life and made it hard for them to switch off.

Three in five (60%) said they work longer hours than they would like and a quarter (24%) stated they over-work by 10 or more hours a week. A quarter (24%) said it’s difficult to relax in their own time because they are thinking about work, and that their job affects their personal commitments (26%).

The research also warned of high levels of work intensity which, like a poor work/life balance, is known to cause ostress. Nearly a quarter (22%) reported they often or always feel exhausted in their jobs, or that they feel under excessive pressure (22%).

Other findings highlighted serious issues with the demands of work and the impact this can have on health. Two in three workers (66%) said they have experienced a work-related health condition in the past 12 months, with anxiety and sleep problems being two of the most commonly cited.

The report revealed that three-quarters of flexible workers (78%) say that flexible working has a positive impact on their quality of life. However, many are missing out, with two-thirds of employees (68%) wanting to work flexibly in at least one form that is not currently available to them.

The CIPD, which co-chairs the Flexible Working Task Force, is seeking to boost the availability of flexible working across the UK. It has produced new guidance and tools on flexible working for all sectors, providing tips on how to improve uptake, successfully implement and carry out an effective evaluation. The body is also urging employers to fulfil their statutory duty of carrying out a comprehensive health and safety risk assessment.

It is also vital that organisations provide effective training for line managers in people management practices to help prevent poor health and stress at work, enable flexible working practices and support work/life balance, the body added.

Speaking to HR magazine, senior advisor for organisational behaviour at the CIPD Jonny Gifford said that flexible working policies alone won't fix the problem of poor work/life balance, however. “It’s no surprise that stress has not gone away in the workplace," he said. "What’s interesting is that even as flexible working policies are becoming more common it clearly hasn’t solved everything with health and wellbeing.

"People are still working 10 or more hours than they’d like to. We also know that when we look at this on an international scale it’s clear that the UK is faring badly on this."

He added that societal changes had led to increased pressure across the workforce: "The global financial crisis and austerity have seen organisations frequently talking about doing 'more with less', and this sentiment has been felt by employers and managers who are piling on workloads and create high expectations of employees. Culture also plays a massive part here. If you’re in an office where no-one leaves before the boss does, and it’s normal for your manager to email you at 6pm, that should be seen as unhealthy."

He added: "Mental illness is on the rise, with employees suffering with anxiety, depression and sleep problems as a result of high workloads. It is undoubtedly a major risk to people’s health. If we really believe that people are our greatest asset then we have to protect them.”

In a speech delivered at the opening of the CIPD Festival of Work, chief executive of the CIPD Peter Cheese said: “At its best work gives people purpose, a sense of identity and achievement, and allows them to contribute to society. But, as our research shows, work can sometimes be all-encompassing, demands too much of people’s precious personal time and takes too much out of them.

“It’s disappointing to see so many workers report they have a poor work/life balance and is an issue that must be addressed by employers. They need to be offering all staff a wide range of flexible working arrangements and actively promote their take-up.

“As co-chair of the Flexible Working Task Force we are working with the government and other business groups to bring flexible working to the masses and help reset the work/life balance. Not only will this help to improve people’s quality of life, but it will make their performance at work more sustainable over the long term.”

The Flexible Working Task Force is a partnership across government departments, business groups, trade unions and charities, and was launched in January to increase flexible working uptake.

The CIPD surveyed 5,136 people for its UK Working Lives survey, an annual assessment of job quality across seven different categories including pay and benefits, contracts and employment terms, and voice and representation.