Flexible working can make you ill, experts say

Research shows that the shift to flexible working has done little to bring down levels of workplace stress

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The Independent Online

Flexible working can have a heavy psychological toll on workers by encouraging a "grazing" approach to work that sees stress levels shoot up every time an employee checks their work email out of the office.

That's the view of Professor Gail Kinman, an occupational health psychologist from the University of Bedfordshire, who told the Guardian that flexible working can cause insomnia, alcohol dependency and comfort eating. 

An "always on" culture can mean workers lose out on time to exercise and cook healthy meals, too.

“You might sleep, but you don’t sleep properly, the effectiveness of your immune system reduces. There are [also] studies that suggest people want a quick way to relax, which is when they tend to drink alcohol and might turn to comfort food," Kinman said.

Prof Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said that some studies show a link between psychological circumstances at work and heart disease.

Flexible working was enshrined in law 18 months ago when the Government agreed that all employees who have been in their jobs for six months or more have the right to request flexible start and finish time or to work from home. 

The shift to flexible working welcomed by trade unions who said it gave workers the opportunity to transform their lives. Frances O'Grady, the general secretary of the TUC, called it a "sensible and modern approach" to working.

But research shows that the shift has done little to bring down levels of workplace stress. The Office of National Statistics found that 10 million working days were lost to workplace stress in 2014/15. Public services such as healthcare and education were the worst affected. 

Respondents said that the main causes of workplace stress were workload pressures, including tight deadlines and too much responsibility and lack of managerial support.

“If you keep picking at work, worrying about it, your systems never really go down to baseline so you don’t recover properly,” Kinman said.