Research from Britain’s Healthiest Company shows UK companies are waking up to the importance of managing employee stress but more can be done. The study highlights that corporate work-life balance programmes are the most effective at reducing stress at work, with 71 percent of employees who tried them saying they were of benefit. But while over 70 percent of companies surveyed are offering at least one initiative designed to tackle stress, just one third (34%) offer separate work-life balance programmes.

The results also show there is a clear disconnect between the availability of work-life balance programmes and their use by staff. Of the 41 companies offering this type of programme, on average only eight percent of employees use them.

Almost three quarters (73%) of respondents to Britain’s Healthiest Company are suffering from at least one dimension of work-related stress. The survey signals that time pressure is the most common stress factor followed by employees not being consulted about change at work, and a lack of choice about tasks done at work. Around 60 percent of respondents said their job made organising their life outside of work difficult and more than a third (36%) said they worked in excess of 40 hours per week; both factors which reduce work-life balance and contribute to stress.

Despite these findings, the research demonstrates UK employers are aware of the importance of work-life balance. Some 50 percent of employees surveyed said they were able to work flexible hours and more than 50% were able to work from home. Many of Britain’s Healthiest Company awards winners offer flexible working, including Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, Sweaty Betty and Old Mutual. Other work-life balance initiatives offered by some of the winners include enhanced shared parental leave, paid study time and paid exam leave, long-service annual leave awards and buying and selling holiday.

Along with an increase in flexible working, organisations are also including stress management modules into management training courses with the aim of creating an environment in which employees can tell their manager if they are not coping with their workload.

Greg Levine, Director of Corporate Healthcare at VitalityHealth, said:

“Britain’s Healthiest Company demonstrates the importance of good work-life balance on mental and physical wellbeing and the benefits to be gained for companies by effectively managing employee stress. It is clear that while many organisations are offering excellent work-life balance programmes more can be done to make sure employees use them. Better communication and convincing support from leadership is needed to make employees aware of the initiatives they can take advantage of to help reduce stress and achieve a healthy work-life balance.”

“Modern life is increasingly fast-paced with workers left feeling time poor and 51 percent citing that they face unreasonable time pressures,” said Chris Bailey, Partner at Mercer. “Significant commuting times, longer working hours, and 24/7 connectivity via mobile devices all combine to increase modern stress levels which in turn can impact productivity. Organisations that value their employees’ overall wellbeing see returns through increased productivity and lower absence figures.  Whilst senior leadership buy-in is essential to creating this inclusive culture, so too is direct line manager engagement in proactively supporting flexible working policies.”

Launched in 2013, Britain’s Healthiest Company is a collaboration between VitalityHealth, Mercer, and The Sunday Telegraph. University of Cambridge and RAND Europe are academic partners, responsible for the survey design, data collection and analysis. This year, Britain’s Healthiest Company surveyed 32,538 employees from 112 companies of varying sizes across the UK.

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