Office well washes away stress

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The Independent Online
Futons, fish tanks and a wishing well are among the features of a pounds 20m new office building intended to provide the perfect working environment.

It is being built to house 1,000 employees of the catalogue company Freemans who will handle 25 million telephone calls from customers a year.

To keep them relaxed there will be Japanese-style, anti-stress rooms equipped with futons and fish tanks for a "tranquil" atmosphere, glass partition walls which appear to have water flowing through them and a wishing well called the "Freemans Fountain of Youth". In the building there will also be a gym, a professional counsellor and a nurse.

A spokesman said the design was agreed after surveys into stress at work. "The company decided that because the new call centre is going to be handling virtually all of Freemans' business in terms of catalogue customers phoning orders in and customer services, the environment should be calming and relaxing," he said.

The large-scale investment in the quality of the working environment came partly as a result of recognition that the centre's atmosphere was likely to be highly charged.

"This will be an intense working atmosphere and Freemans' attitude is that if stress is high in such an atmosphere you're going to be losing more staff to sickness - it will be more of a drain than a motivator." Freemans believe relaxed and happy staff worked better, he added.

The company is one of the UK's biggest providers of home shopping and has been in Sheffield for 21 years, in a Sixties office block that is considered ill-equipped for modern working practices.

When the company decided that it had outgrown the building several years ago, it opted to design and build a working environment from scratch.

"Last century, fewer than one in a 100 people worked in an office," Keith Basnett, Freemans' general manager, said. "Today, office life is the norm. Unfortunately, few companies have moved with the times, with the result that many companies are horrendous places to work for, and drain, rather than motivate, staff.

"Although as a call centre handling 25 million calls each year we can't eliminate stress altogether, we can minimise the risks. We've created a working environment that will offer our people the facilities and support they need to tackle stress in a positive way."

The building is due to be completed next spring and is expected to be fully operational by the summer.