Give peace a chance

first_img Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Related posts:No related photos. Nebulous and unacknowledged in law as the term might be, stress isnevertheless very real in the workplace and is estimated to cost Britishindustry £9bn each year.The Health & Safety Executive estimates 40 million working days a yearare lost due to stress-related illness. But there is no UK legislation thatcompels employers to defuse the working environment for their employees andaddress “stress” as an issue, despite one of the worst records inEurope for stress-related mortality, illness and absenteeism. “The Health& Safety at Work Act 1974 requires that employers must ‘ensure the health,safety and welfare of their employees’,” says the HSE’s Peter Morgan. “Yetthese are broad, general principles. Stress as a cause of illness would be verydifficult to prove.”Psychologist Brian Hill, who runs a private stress management centre inHarley Street, London, reckons everyday life has never been more stressful.”It affects every single one of us,” he says. “It affects ourhomeostatis, or balance, so we take energy from our physical, spiritual,emotional centres to balance ourselves. Relationships suffer as well.”Some organisations claim to have taken an innovative approach to the problem– eschewing the ubiquitous Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) in favour of aworkplace de-stressing area with names such as “anarchy area” the”quiet room” and the “break-out area”, which we profilebelow. The more radical even allow employees to take a nap during the workingday.But professor Cary Cooper of the University of Manchester Institute ofScience and Technology (Umist) takes a cynical view towards workplacerelaxation areas. He believes many of them allow for longer hours and points outthat it is the chronic problems underlying the causes of stress which should beresolved.”Nap rooms and massages at the desk are novel solutions, but they arenot solving the major problems,” he says. “These could be inflexibleworking hours, autocratic management styles or management directives. A regularaudit needs to be done to see if there is a problem and [whether] it is gettingworse.”Time management and prioritising are preventative measures which can help,says Cooper, and that counselling should be provided for those who “fallthrough the cracks and cannot cope”.The profilesBluewater shopping complex• Following consultations with the local Greenhithe and Kent community, LendLease Corporation, the property and financial services group which constructedand continues to manage Bluewater shopping complex, included the cost of theQuiet Room in its £350m construction costs.An average 25 employees and customers visit the room daily. “Thecommunity wanted something that could give back to the people who work here.The Quiet Room is interdenominational and staffed by various helpers fromgroups within the community,” explains managing director Adrian Wright.”Their concerns range from, ‘I just need 10 minutes to spend by myself’to ‘I have a personal problem that I would like to discuss with someone’.”The Quiet Room is not a chapel in a religious sense, but a place wherepeople go to reflect, seek help and assistance and generally talk through theirproblems,” he added. Microsoft UK• With a “work hard, play hard” ethos at Microsoft’s UKheadquarters in Reading, the human resources team has come up with an”anarchy area” where its 800 employees can go to relax and playgames. It has a pool table, coffee bar, TV, magazines, PCs and informalseating.Organisational effectiveness manager Denise Melvin says that the companyconstantly reinforces the message that employees should look after themselvesand take time out. “Stress management is very important to us atMicrosoft,” she says. “Our work environment is generally informal.Fresh fruit is freely available, our restaurant has a range of healthy food andwe do whatever we can to make the environment as conducive as possible.”Staff also have access to a doctor, occupational health advisor and canrequest a massage. The company also provides training on stress managementbased on Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People andFitness for Life which is intended to create physical well-being through dietand exercise.Clark Levy & Co solicitors• In contrast to a purpose-designed room, solicitors Clark Levy, Gravesend,has a spare room “below stairs” to which they can escape should thepressures of the working day become too much. The room had been sealed off andwas only discovered when a member of staff put their foot through the floor ofthe once-derelict building 20 years ago. Consequently a stairwell was added andthe room was designated as a working area for a part-time secretary, but also aplace to go to unwind. Staff talk over their problems there and the partners donot interfere.Partner Ralph Levy, who runs his practice without an appointment system, isaware there are times when his staff do need to get away to “talk thingsover, have a cry, or generally just be by themselves”.”The nature of our work is that we are dealing with people instress,” he says. “I often have to deal with cases urgently. Thatputs me under stress and this reverberates through the office. The roomdownstairs is used only four hours a day by my secretary and is known as anarea where people can go for privacy. If they do go down there, no one willfollow them. If the room is in use, a staff member may then say they are goingfor a walk, and of course I agree.”Cohn & Wolfe public relations• The directors of public relations firm Cohn & Wolfe based in London’sWest End, took the unusual step of getting the building’s designers to consultall 100 employees before the design was finalised 10 years ago.”The employees’ answers drove our final design,” says managingdirector Martin Ellis. “They wanted as much natural light as possible,open plan and an easily accessible, quick relaxation area.”Consequently, instead of the directors having the three-plate glasswindows, the oil paintings and the potted plants, we took the opposite approachand the executives are in the centre. This is truly a team environment, morelike a newsroom than an office, with an eye-line that goes right through theoffice.”The open area has two large sofas where people can read the paper and puttheir feet up. “We totally encourage that,” says Ellis. Team spiritlaps over into leagues for the football table, including single sex leagues andmixed doubles.”Things can get quite loud, particularly when there is an important match,or a grudge match on.”Discipline within the company is self-imposed and employees managethemselves. “We all know what we have to do and what the clientexpects,” says Ellis. “The stress comes from managing two or threedemanding accounts at any one time. We are aware that people in busyenvironments won’t take a break, eating sandwiches at their desks. Ourrelaxation area acts as a counterbalance to that.”Text 100 public relations• The pressures of strict deadlines and demanding clients is catered foralso by PR firm Text 100, which has offices in South Africa, Australia and theUS. Glen Goldsmith, manager of the London Office in Shepherds Bush, says thecompany came up with “duvet days” and a “break-out area” tocounteract the ups and downs of PR.With a maximum of up to five days allowed, which are not counted as holiday,employees can take a day off if they feel they cannot face work, while the”break-out area”, which cost £2,000 to set up, allows for time out toplay computer games, watch TV or chat on the sofa.”If anything, we encourage people to spend time down there,” saysGoldsmith, who admits he is concerned at the “epidemic of e-mailjunkeyism” of recent years. “We encourage conversation andinteractive human relationships.” He claims that as a result thatstress-related absenteeism is low.EMI• The nature of the music industry means that day often rolls into evening,because of concerts and entertaining. Senior HR manager Michelle Connolly saysthe majority of offices have sofas, which can be used for naps, and its 350employees are encouraged to take time out to de-stress and keep healthy. Anon-site gym also encourages this, with weights, steppers, bikes and treadmills.”We also have a big social area, restaurant and pool tables,” saysConnolly. “It is very much part of our planning to incorporate relaxationinto the working day. Offices are brightly painted, with music and colourfulsoft furnishings.” Give peace a chanceOn 1 Feb 2000 in Personnel Todaylast_img read more