Written by Matt Ephgrave, MD at Just Eat for Business 

Workplace stress in the UK has reached an astonishing level, and it’s affecting our productivity. The pandemic shoulders part of the blame, but government health agency data suggests stress had been rising at a steady rate even before the pandemic. Depression, anxiety, and stress now contribute to 50% of all work-related ill health cases. Employers are losing huge volumes of time because of it – 18 million days a year, according to the latest statistics.

We at Just Eat for Business felt it was important to understand the causes of workplace stress before trying to overcome them. In April, we surveyed workers across the UK to find out.  These are the key findings that stood out. 

 

Employees want to trial a four-day week

The concept of a four-day working week has floated around for a while. Iceland has been piloting it since 2015. The pandemic then increased its relevance and Belgium introduced a law allowing it earlier this year. The UK will run a small pilot study starting in June and it’ll be interesting to see the results. 

Our research suggests this may provide a way to tackle workplace stress. ‘Maintaining a work/life balance’ proved the most common contributing factor to workplace stress – one in three employees said it affected them. When we asked what they would do to reduce stress, they suggested trialling a four-day week.

If employees want to better balance their work with their personal lives, reducing the working week by one day appears logical. But to many business leaders, the policy might seem drastic (it is, after all, reducing working time by 20%.) That’s why it’s important to highlight the ‘trial’ aspect of this. Positioning a new programme as a ‘trial’ to your employees will also help to manage their expectations as well as testing the concept – you could even see productivity levels soar. 

If you do choose to try out the four-day week, it needs to be done with thorough consideration and thought. Seven in ten employees reported workplace stress extending into their personal lives in our survey – there’s a risk that reducing the working week down to four days could further blur the boundaries between work and non-work life. It’s important to make sure your business puts the right policies in place to prevent this. 

 

Provide relaxed opportunities for employees to engage with each other

HR and people teams have emphasised the importance of clear divisions between employees’ work life and personal life in recent years. Blurring the lines can lead to the perception of longer hours and resentment towards work. That said, it’s still important to make sure employees can engage with each other beyond ‘work only’ conversations.

The third and fourth most prevalent contributing factors to stress in our study involved disagreements and discussions with colleagues. A further 35% said they would feel uncomfortable talking to colleagues about workplace stress. This should be a cause for concern.

In an ideal workplace, employees would feel comfortable sharing feelings with at least one colleague at work. Maintaining good interpersonal relations with other people across the business can provide employees with opportunities to seek support where needed.

These relationships will not always transpire without the business facilitating them. Employees often work within departmental silos without having the opportunity to meet others across the company. Organising company lunches, sports sessions, and Friday evening drinks can all help to bring people together. Making use of ‘flexible working’, you could allocate two-hour midday breaks, encouraging employees to connect over lunch.

Workplace stress can initiate a cycle where employees have too little time to engage with their colleagues. Even when working remotely, they may rush home from the (virtual) office, failing to say goodbye to the people they spent the day with. All this will only increase stress. As a business, it’s important to consider how you can break this cycle to encourage employees to engage and bond with each other.

 

Remain responsive and flexible to your employees’ needs.

We often talk about flexible working in terms of four-day weeks, Friday drinks, and remote working. These policies then become rigid and overcloud the founding principle of flexible working: To be flexible.

Our research revealed many employees agree on a few things: the benefits of a four-day week, the difficulty maintaining a work-life balance. But there are also many more problems and solutions only small percentages agree on: bringing pets into the office, how much time should be spent on meetings, or the value of social occasions. These feelings are nevertheless important.

The point here is that workplace stress results from a diverse range of factors, and such factors will require an equally diverse range of solutions. Flexibility is crucial. Combating the rising level of workplace stress in the UK may require big changes like the four-day week. Much, however, could be done by implementing small adjustments in response to individual needs.

 

About the author

Matt Ephgrave is Managing Director at Just Eat for Business, with a huge amount of experience in hybrid and marketplace businesses.