Stress Takes Its Toll on Workers at Home
Burrell, Ian, The Independent (London, England)
PEOPLE WHO work from their homes can suffer more stress than those working in an office under continual pressure from their bosses, the Health and Safety Executive has found.
The revelation comes from research into a problem linked to sickness which affects more than half a million British workers.
The executive, which last week began a crackdown on employers who unnecessarily subject their workers to stress, has employed research teams at three universities to investigate the issue. They have found that modern practices designed to create a more pleasant and efficient working environment are compounding stress levels.
The executive's director-general Jenny Bacon said: "One of the things that is coming through is that less-conventional modes of employment like part-time work, working from home and multiple contract employment are all pretty stressful situations.
"If you have got people working from home, communication becomes much more difficult and the workers suffer from increased vulnerability."
She said the introduction of noisier open-plan offices and greater use of team-working had also led to increased tension. "If you are suddenly putting people who are used to being autocrats into positions where they are a team player, they are likely to be stressed."
Last week Unison, the public service union, complained that modern "hot- desking" practices, designed to encourage flexibility by moving employees from one available work-station to another, were causing stress.
Staff in call centres, where workers field telephone enquiries from customers, said they had no personal space in the office. "The technology may be state of the art but you feel like a slave," said one.
The executive is considering a code of practice on stress, giving it stronger legal backing to force employers to accept changes or face prosecution.
A code, which the Confederation of British Industry regards as unnecessary and out of proportion to the scale of the problem, would require the backing of health and safety commissioners and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.
Health and safety inspectors are on the look-out for evidence of extreme stress, and firms could be prosecuted for cases in which employees are so stressed they become ill.
But firms are more likely to be served with improvement notices under the Health and Safety at Work Act, and will be prosecuted if they fail to remedy stressful conditions. …