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Tackling unhappiness at work

Ann Francke

Blue Monday reminds us of the importance of tackling unhappiness in the workplace. Our recent research highlighted the fact that the average manager in the UK works an extra 29 days over the course of a year. Comment from Ann Francke, Chief Executive of the CMI.

Over half of managers say their working hours have a bad effect on their stress levels, which is having a disastrous impact on the nation’s productivity. Recent reforms announced by the Government to transform attitudes of mental health in the workplace are a step in the right direction, but the reality is we all have a role to play in improving the wellbeing of the UK’s workforce. Tackling the ‘always on’ culture of constantly checking emails on smartphones and tablets out of office hours, for instance, is extremely important. Good, skilled managers know that they need to switch off and allow their employees to do the same.

Helping employees strike the necessary work/life balance must be a priority for both employers and the Government in facing up to the challenge of improving workplace stress. Doing so will not only help improve the performance and happiness of the UK’s workforce, it will also be crucial in closing the country’s chronic productivity gap.” Research from Chartered Management Institute’s Quality of Working Life study found: Of the 1,574 managers surveyed, nearly seven in ten (77 percent) work for at least an additional hour each day, adding up to an extra 29 days over the course of a year. With average holiday entitlement only 28 days, this extra time cancels out managers’ annual leave.

Up to 10 percent put in more than three extra hours each day, the equivalent of working a 15-month year. 54 percent of managers agree that long working hours are leading to elevated levels of stress. 61 percent of managers blame technology for their increased hours as they find it harder to switch off, with one in five managers reporting that they are ‘always on’ and check emails all the time. Those struggling to switch off report lower personal productivity levels and experience more stress. Managers’ report a link between working longer hours and suffering from increased headaches, irritability and insomnia, early symptoms of mental health problems and potential burn out.

Effective management is found to be a key factor in handling stress in the work place. The worst management styles are shown to generate up to four times more stress than the best: 28 percent of those reporting that their line managers are “secretive” or “suspicious” feel stressed, compared to just 7 percent of those who believe their managers empower them to take their own decisions.

CMI’s recommendations for improving the quality of working life. Improve the ability to manage change – 97 percent of managers’ report some degree of organisational change, yet just a fifth see a connection with improved decision making. Focusing on behaviours and measuring the impacts of change are crucial in tackling this leading cause of stress. Develop better line managers – Line managers have a critical role to play in driving employee engagement. More open, empowering management styles are connected with lower levels of stress, higher job satisfaction and greater personal productivity

Switch off – Avoiding digital presenteeism means giving colleagues the license to switch off. Colleagues can often be their own worst enemies, and while personal choice is key, options such as restricting remote access should be considered. Empower your people – The most power drivers of job satisfaction are a personal sense of achievement. Where innovative, entrepreneurial and empowering management styles are found, more than 84 percent of managers are satisfied with their jobs. Improve well-being – People are not assets to be driven to destruction, it is important to monitor metrics such as morale and illness to identify destructive habits.

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