Employers hear that less stressed staff are more committed and more productive in their jobs. Tony Tysome reports
Universities are being encouraged to introduce flexible working arrangements for staff after research showed that this not only boosts morale and reduces stress but also improves productivity.
Employers' representatives said this week that there were clear signs that institutions were beginning to wake up to the business benefits of allowing all staff - not just those withcaring responsibilities or disabilities - to apply to work moreflexibly.
A workplace wellbeing seminar held by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association revealed how research had found that giving staff the chance to vary their hours, work from home, go on study leave or take sabbaticals makes staff more productive, as well as lifting their morale and reducing stress levels.
A sector-wide three-year project led by Staffordshire University found a strong business case for introducing flexible working.
Pilot schemes in Birmingham, De Montfort, Staffordshire and Canterbury Christ Church universities showed that staff became more committed to their work and institution when their working arrangements were freed to suit their needs and preferences.
David Harrison, assistant director of human resources with responsibility for workplace wellbeing at Birmingham, said such flexibility also helped to recruit staff: "Everyone is keen to attract and retain the best staff. One of the best ways of doing that is to make sure you have a positive working environment."
But for such schemes to work, it was vital that institutions involved all staff and set up clear criteria to decide who could change their working arrangements, he said.
Michelle Holliday, equal opportunities and diversity manager at Oxford Brookes University, where flexible working is on offer to all staff, said:
"It can create tension for managers because it is something new and can be worrying. They need support, guidance and training."
This can mean that introducing wellbeing policies into the workplace is a long-term process, rather than a quick fix, she added.
Jocelyn Prudence, Ucea chief executive, said: "We are planning to set up a working group to explore this area further."
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