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Tech can tackle UK’s unhealthy ‘always-on’ working practices – but only if company bosses want to use it, Microsoft report reveals

The UK’s “always-on” culture is having a serious effect on people’s health, with most workers struggling with feelings of anxiety and failure, new research has revealed.

While Brits know that flexible working can help them spend as much time with their families as they do in the office and improve mental health, many companies don’t have the culture or technology in place to make this a realistic option, the Microsoft study found.

Only 23 per cent of organisations regularly launch initiatives to improve employee wellbeing and 53 per cent disagree that their organisation has training in place to help employees embrace a healthy, balanced lifestyle. In light of this, Microsoft has called on businesses to offer staff digital tools and devices to help them “reclaim their work/life balance”.

The report revealed that 86 per cent of Brits say they have experienced anxiety due to work pressure in the last year. This is leading to difficulties in “switching off” from work, (87 per cent) and sleeping (86 per cent), as well as feelings of failure (79 per cent).

Almost a third (30 per cent) regularly sacrifice their personal lives for work, with the number rising to 43 per cent for those aged under 35. More than half (56 per cent) have answered work-related calls while out of the office and eight in 10 struggle (80 per cent) to focus at home due to pressure at work.

Woman biting pencil in front of her laptop

Almost half of people said they wished their organisation invested in better tech so they could work more efficiently

However, few feel they are able to address their work/life balance by working flexibly. Only 50 per cent of UK workers said their organisation offers flexible working, and just 35 per cent of those are actively encouraged to take advantage of it. More than a third said they needed an “official reason” such as an appointment to work outside the office.

Howard Lewis, Surface Business Group Lead at Microsoft UK, said: “UK organisations have a duty of care to their employees and small changes can make a big difference. It’s not just about introducing a flexible working policy and hoping for the best. Organisational leaders must be role models for their employees, equip them with the tools to make flexible working work and, most importantly of all, communicate the value that these kinds of policies can have for an organisation – both in terms of employee wellbeing and the bottom line.”

He added that Microsoft has a “great toolset” to allow people to work how they want, wherever they want. The company recently announced a range of portable and powerful new devices including the Surface Pro X, Surface Pro 7 and Laptop 3, adding to a range that includes its smallest and lightest two-in-one laptop – Surface Go.

Office 365 tools such as Microsoft Teams and programs including Flow, which allows users to automate tasks; MyAnalytics, which shows you how you are spending your work time; and sticky notes in outlook to remind users of things tasks they need to complete all help.

Despite these tools being free for O365 users, many of the more than 2,000 UK workers surveyed by Microsoft said outdated technology was one of the main obstacles for them in trying to do their best work. Less than one-in-five (18 per cent) have not faced any tech difficulties, and almost half (48 per cent) said they wished their organisation invested in better tech so they could work more efficiently.

Microsoft is urging company bosses to look at three ways to improve their staff’s work/life balance:

  • Ensure that working from home is seen as business critical, not just an employee benefit. Leadership must set a positive example for employees and actively encourage the workforce to take advantage of flexible working policies
  • Create a culture of trust amongst your organisation. Empower employees to work when and where works for them, and discourage presenteeism
  • Equip employees with tools and devices that enable them to work seamlessly and efficiently no matter where they are

Abby Hubbard, Co-Founder of Work Well Being, which aims to improve health and happiness in the workplace, said: “There is less of a stigma around mental health these days, and the younger generation are not putting up with a lack of work-life balance. They are putting that above a job title or salary.

“Organisations also have a huge role to play in implementing the right culture. Leaders need to be educated to spot issues with their staff, and employees need to feel like their voice is being heard.

“The success and wellbeing of people and business go hand in hand; and encouraging time to unplug and to invest in re-energising activities is an important part of any thriving business. Organisations that understand and act on this will continue to adapt, innovate and outperform those that don’t.”