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Avaya Research Reveals the Hidden Dangers of Overworking - SMEs in UK and Germany Examined
The secret pleasure of using social media as a critical tool to stay on top of things as the world turns is occasionally like a box of chocolate: you are treated to something enjoyable. Such is the case with a press release out of Guildford, UK on August 30, 2011 from Avaya. I’ll be honest, they had me with the first paragraph and bullet list:
81 percent of UK and German SME decision makers feel that demanding work commitments are to blame for struggles in their personal lives – but businesses are taking positive action to reverse this trend:
- 89 percent admit to suffering from stress and ill health
- 37 percent have suffered relationship strife, a separation or even divorce
- 35 percent have missed holidays due to work commitments
- 83 percent of sufferers believe flexible working helps to ease the pressures of working life
You hooked yet? Read on.
The aptly titled, “The Flexible Working and SMEs” report from which these numbers were extracted was commissioned by Avaya (News - Alert) and carried out by Dynamic Markets. It details quantitative research during the Summer of 2011. It involved detailed interviews with 700 senior managers in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) – 350 in the UK and 350 in Germany.
The report revealed that the consequences suffered from too much work go beyond the typical daily stresses of office life. Other findings were that, as a result of an inflexible work regime:
- Well over half (56 percent) endure stress
- A third (33 percent) have suffered from poor health
- Over a quarter (27 percent) of people admit to marriage or relationship problems
- A tenth (10 percent) say their dedication to work has actually resulted in divorce or separation
- Almost a fifth (18 percent) of parents admit to missing out on their kids’ school
The study also uncovered an interesting dichotomy in regards to efforts of SMEs to provide flexibility in working hours to help employees achieve a better work/personal life balance:
- Over three quarters (76 percent) of SMEs offer employees some degree of flexible working.
- Yet, employees spend an average 74 percent of their working week chained to their desks.
In other words, there is still (pardon the pun) work to be done.
As Michael Bayer (News - Alert), President, Avaya EMEA sees the results as saying, “It is a very positive sign that over three quarters of small businesses offer flexible working, but the fact that the average employee spends the vast majority of their working week office-bound suggests there is still a major disconnect between flexible working being an option for employees, and it actually becoming a habitual way of working.” He continued, “Where businesses clearly recognize and understand the benefits, they now need to put the tools and solutions in place to make it have a real impact on peoples’ lives. Unified communications solutions can help businesses to arm their staff with the tools they need to reach a more favorable work-life balance and achieve real flexibility at work – it’s a simple case of giving employees the communications technologies they need to be more connected, more mobile, more contactable and as a result, more productive.”
As someone who worked from home for years, I can attest to two things:
- With the right communications and computing tools — as defined in terms of things like the task at hand, security, impact on customer experience, ability to resolve even atypical challenges, etc.— the ability to be anywhere and be as fully responsive as if you were “at your desk” can be a true blessing.
- Unified communications, whether premise based or now through the cloud, are the right tools. They do enable employees to work highly efficiently and effectively when they are off-site, and this can translate into them maintaining a healthy work-life balance. As importantly, they allow SMEs the ability to provide 24/7/365 levels of service and managers the ability to keep constant tabs on the health and performance of their operations, systems as well as people.
Avaya says that previous research has shown that increased flexibility in the workplace greatly helps to boost productivity, and has the additional benefit of better talent retention rates and higher levels of employee loyalty.
The challenge, of course, is that there are a few other variables that can impact on the level of productivity and employee satisfaction that can be achieved from giving employees the “flexibility” of working “out of the office.” These variables can create significant organizational issues, including ones revolving around management credibility, when saying you are seeking to do something to increase work-life balance. These variables are:
- Not everyone is most productive when working remotely. I thrived on it, but have many colleagues who hated it because of being enticed by a host of distractions (events, chores, games, “quality time” with family, personal crises, etc.) that they now could attend to.
- The tools for working remotely are also the tools for being in constant touch. They can actually cause work time to leak even more into personal time, by design or by choice. This is particularly true for “workaholics” who find the idea of not knowing what is going on every second of the day highly stressful. Many a disgruntled significant other or family member longs for the days when work for the most part stayed at work.
- Cultural differences matter, i.e., if you look at the statistics concerning the average number of hours worked per week and per year in the U.S. and Japan vs. the UK and Germany, for example, the gap is significant. Also significant is the society’s attitudes about how sacrosanct vacations and family time are.
What all this adds up to is that we always need to be mindful of the old adage that if you give a starving man a fish you will temporarily slack his hunger, but if you teach him how to fish he will be able to sustain himself for life.”
Ultimately this is not just about flexibility of hours, it is about putting the right tools in the hands of the right people with the right policies and rules.
Thank you for the sweets Avaya. This was great food for thought. I can’t wait to see what will be in the next box of chocolate.
Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2011, taking place Sept. 13-15, 2011, in Austin, Texas. ITEXPO (News - Alert) offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. To register, click here.
Peter Bernstein is a technology industry veteran, having worked in multiple capacities with several of the industry's biggest brands, including Avaya, Alcatel-Lucent, Telcordia (News - Alert), HP, Siemens, Nortel, France Telecom, and others, and having served on the Advisory Boards of 15 technology startups. To read more of Peter's work, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Rich Steeves