How does flexible working affect mental health?

Published: 15th May 2015 Flexible working

Flexible working has become a hot topic over the past year. And although debate has tended to focus on the practical benefits, the health benefits of flexible working are huge too. With one in six workers experiencing stress, anxiety or depression1, mental health in the workplace is a big issue. So, what impact can flexible working have on the mental health of your staff? We take a look at both the company and employee benefits to find out why, for many businesses, it's more than a 'nice to have' - it's essential.

Can work really make us that stressed?

Work can make us stressed - we've all experienced it at one point or another, whether it's the dread of a looming deadline or the anxiety of a never-ending to-do list. But job stress can become ten times worse when it clashes with demanding personal commitments or mental health problems. So, as an employer what can you do to help?

Giving staff the option of flexible working - whether on an ad hoc or an ongoing basis - has obvious employee benefits and company benefits. Ever struggled to get a doctor's appointment before nine? Familiar with being stuck in nightmare traffic during the school run? If so, you'll know it can make a huge difference having an understanding boss and flexible work arrangements in place. Giving staff a say in where and when they work, helps them juggle their personal and professional lives better. It also goes a long way in relieving the headache of work stress.

The good news is that flexi-working makes staff a lot more productive too. In a recent study, 61% of Londoners said their productivity is limited by personal problems at least some of the time2. A flexible approach to working patterns is the perfect antidote. Plus, 72% of global businesses reported an increase in productivity after shifting to flexi-working3. So you're not just doing your employees a favour by adopting it - you're also helping your company's bottom line.  

So, how can flexible working impact our mental health?

Flexible working has more than just practical benefits. New research by the Wolfson Research Institute shows that giving staff control over their own working patterns, can boost their mental wellbeing4. In one of its studies, police officers who were able to change their starting time at work, experienced big improvements in their mental health compared to those starting work at a fixed time. Another survey by Regus found that staff are more energized and motivated when they have flexi-working5. A more motivated workforce means a happier and more productive workforce. It's a win-win for both sides.  

It then comes as no surprise that flexible working drives down sick days and absenteeism. A 2012 CIPD study found that 56% of employers found that absenteeism dropped after they adopted flexible working patterns6.

How can it help those with more serious mental health problems?

For staff suffering from serious mental health problems, flexible working can be a life saver. And with one in four people experiencing a mental health problem at some point in their lives7, it's worth tackling your approach to flexible working now. Suffering from a mental illness can be difficult enough. But to top things off, sufferers have to deal with a fluctuating mind that won't always accommodate itself to a nine to five day. So simple things like letting an employee dial in to a meeting from home, instead of attending in person, can make all the difference to their productivity. Certain medications can also make people groggy in the mornings. So by tailoring your team member's work hours to a time that suits them, you'll get the most out of them.   

If you're still sceptical about the pros of flexible working, remember it's not just the employee who wins. Although flexible working boosts employee mental health and morale, it also leads to greater productivity, retention and a whole host of other company benefits. So saying 'yes' to flexible working isn't just about being a nice boss. It's also makes good business sense.

Sources:

1. http://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/news/minds-statement-on-news-flexible-working-rights-have-been-extended-to-over-20-million-people/#.VTehsSFViko

2. http://www.canadalife.co.uk/media/32428/motivationproductivitypr.pdf

3. http://www.regus.co.uk/images/Flexibility%20Drives%20Productivity_tcm294-49367.pdf

4. http://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/news/minds-statement-on-news-flexible-working-rights-have-been-extended-to-over-20-million-people/#.VTehsSFViko

5. http://www.regus.co.uk/images/Flexibility%20Drives%20Productivity_tcm294-49367.pdf

6. http://www.cipd.co.uk/binaries/5790%20Flexible%20Working%20SR%20(WEB2).pdf

7. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/employers-urged-to-offer-flexible-working-to-support-mental-health-needs

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