With the holiday lull well and truly over, Australian workers are already noticing an increase in their stress levels. A recent Regus survey found that office life has never been more demanding, with over half of the Australian workforce (52 per cent) claiming that they are closer to burning out than they were just five years ago. With statistics this high, what exactly are the tension-triggers, and more importantly, what can both employers and employees do to alleviate some of this workplace stress?
Lack of exercise and healthy eating
Deskbound lunches and static activity are a significant cause of increased stress, having a huge negative effect on the mind and body, as workers feel more sluggish and fatigued. We need to find ways of creating more movement throughout the day – this can include using a rest room on a different floor or parking as far away from the office as possible.
Companies are fast becoming more aware of employee health and wellbeing, so speak to your employer about ways you can increase your activity. Why not swap your chair for a medicine ball or go for a quick run in your lunch-break?
Lack of staff and tight deadlines
-So much to do and so little time to do it' has become a familiar feeling, but if it's causing anxiety and illness, it's important that this issue is addressed. Employees that are overworked are more likely to lose motivation regardless of how much overtime pay they are receiving, so it's crucial to maintain open communication with your employer and let them know when you're at capacity.
On the other hand, employers should let their workers know when a busy period is approaching, so their staff can feel prepared for the extra workload. It is important to build a schedule that still allows time with family and friends for the ultimate personal and professional success.
Employees in unstable companies, or in positions that are regarded as expendable, will only invest enough to warrant their paycheck - or chances are, they'll begin looking elsewhere. Transparent and frequent communication in the workplace gives teams a sense of loyalty and trust. While you can't make people stay, good communication channels on both sides will minimise unwanted surprises, and help to reduce workplace stress.
The importance of working with people we like cannot be overstated. Friendships in the workplace make up for a lot of ills, and the reverse is also true. Author of We All Need Friends at Work, Professor Christine M. Riordan, said that, 'close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50 per cent, and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work."
You don't have to have a best friend at work, but you do need to be able to relax around your colleagues and enjoy their company.
Lack of flexibility
A growing number of employers recognise the benefits of flexible workplace practices; however there is still a long way to go. The major barriers to implementing workplace flexibility often arise when either the employer perceives that there may be costs or inconveniences associated with implementing flexible working, or when employees perceive that taking advantage of available flexible work options may have negative consequences in terms of their position within the organisation.
We live in a world where we are constantly on the move, and it's vital that we recognise work-related stress as a significant health and safety issue. It's important for businesses to understand that setting workplace standards that promote flexibility and allows for a happier work/life balance will ensure improved employee productivity, loyalty and retention - therefore creating happier, healthier workplaces - and better bottom lines.
Question: Are you surprised that over half of the Australian workforce are stressed at work?
Georgia Mitchell: No I'm not surprised! We are working in a fast paced world where we have to deal with the stress of juggling personal and professional commitments that ultimately undermine our productivity and creativity.
Question: Why do you believe these statistics are higher than five years ago?
Georgia Mitchell: I believe it's due to a combination of factors such as being under-resourced and over worked, feeling deskbound, and not having adequate time to exercise and recalibrate.
Question: What can employers do to alleviate some of this workplace stress?
Georgia Mitchell: Flexible working is one way with a growing number of employees and employers working outside the main office at least some of the time – that includes working from home, a café, or at a business centre.
In my role I'm seeing an increasing demand for a network of professional settings to help those working flexibly or remotely. There are many more people choosing to work flexibly from a Regus centre which is closer to home or their point of call better work:life balance, happiness, and a regular change of scenery which is the best way to reduce workplace stress.
Question: What advantages will employers recieve when decreasing workplace stress?
Georgia Mitchell: There are so many. The biggest advantage is creating a happier, healthier bottom line - achieving a work life balance between the needs of home and work is a win win for both the employee and the employer.
By reducing stress in the workplace employers will attract more talent and will help keep trained, skilled employees whose changing circumstances may otherwise lead them to leave.
There's still more though, such as reduced absenteeism, increased management skills, improved business performance and a reduction in business expenses.
Question: What can employees do to alleviate some of this workplace stress?
Georgia Mitchell: As mentioned before, flexible working is the top driver for alleviating stress in the workplace but for a quick solution a change of scenery - such as working from another location – is the easiest and most common way to relieve tension and restore a work:life balance.
Question: Why is it important to take our lunch breaks?
Georgia Mitchell: It's necessary for our health and our sanity! Also your nutrition will decide your productivity for the rest of the day.
Question: How can exercise decrease office stress?
Georgia Mitchell: Exercise and nutrition are proven to alleviate stress so try and move as much as possible during the day – use a bathroom on a different floor or take a brisk walk around the block as a minimum. At Regus Australia, our CEO, Paul Migliorini, is a great driver of health and fitness in the workplace. He encourages us to work flexibly and offers health and wellness programs for us to partake in which is great for reducing stress but also boosts morale.
Question: What's the best way to use our lunch break?
Georgia Mitchell: Lunch breaks seem to be getting shorter and shorter, yet taking a break"even for 15 to 20 minutes"is a proven way to sustain concentration and energy levels throughout the day.
I recommend sitting outside and changing up the scenery or catching up on the mornings paper to give your mind and body a chance to rest and recalibrate ready for a productive afternoon.
Question: How can we create flexibly workplaces?
Georgia Mitchell: A flexible workplace is one where employers and employees work together to decide on working arrangements such as hours of work, work location and the way work is carried out.
Be ready to have an open conversation about how flexible working will work for you as an employee or employer as it means thinking creatively about how working lives can be planned to match individual and business needs.
Question: Why does a change of location, at work, often restore a work:life balance?
Georgia Mitchell: The freedom to work away from the main office from time to time is now seen as a key factor in achieving an ideal work:life balance - with 59 per cent of Australian respondents across all the major cities reporting that flexible workers are much better off!
Interview by Brooke Hunter