5. Flexible working and stress: a new challenge for FM



ISSN: 0263-2772

Article publication date: 1 March 2000




Grimshaw, B. and Nutt, B. (2000), "5. Flexible working and stress: a new challenge for FM", Facilities, Vol. 18 No. 3/4. https://doi.org/10.1108/f.2000.06918cab.033



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

5. Flexible working and stress: a new challenge for FM

5. Flexible working and stress: a new challenge for FM

Bob Grimshaw and Bev NuttBob Grimshaw is Professor of Facility Use and Management at the University of the South West of England and Bev Nutt is Professor of Facility and Environment Management at University College London.

Keywords: Flexible working, Work stress, Facilities management

For 100 years the dominant model for the organisation of commercial business has been the corporate office. The attention of space planners and facilities managers has focused on the dedicated workplace. More flexible patterns of working are now becoming commonplace. These developments raise fundamental questions about how work is to be supported in the future, and how individuals will react and operate within the flexible working environment. Some of the potential benefits and risks of the new flexible working arrangements are indicated in Table I. How should FM respond to help the promised benefits of flexible working to be realised, their potential risks contained? An obvious focus is on technical support, ensuring that off-site workers have the right equipment and technical back-up to ensure efficient lines of communication. A more insidious and potentially threatening issue is that of health.

The awareness of stress in the workplace generated by poor environmental design, excessive work pressures and inappropriate management practices is well understood. However, stresses generated by flexible working, whether in the home or on the move, has had less attention. In some eyes, flexible working offers a release from the stresses of the traditional workplace, giving staff the freedom to choose how, where and when they work. This ignores the potential problems that can arise. There is little research to assess the impact of these new origins of stress but some of the issues can be listed: the intermingling of the pressures of work and the family home; the inability to control working hours and the feeling of always being at work; isolation and the lack of direct social contact with colleagues; lack of supervision; loss of status; and problematical career development.

Is this a proper field of concern for FM? The lack of any tangible facility might seem to remove it from the domain of FM. However, if FM is to continue to be responsible for providing support to the core functions of an organisation, including the interaction between management, employees, customers and technology, then anything which threatens to interfere with that interaction must be a legitimate concern for FM. This raises many uncomfortable issues. How may these emerging problems be assessed ? What is the appropriate response and level of support ? Many flexible workers are contract workers. Should they expect the same support as permanent staff ? What new FM skills might be needed to respond ? The move towards more flexible patterns of work within "part-virtual" organisations is not likely to go away, given the switch of focus in many organisations from product/service to knowledge management. If FM's practice and operations continue to focus on the dedicated workplace, within the corporate office facility, then it could end up being marginalised at best, or made redundant at worst.

Applied research into "managing workplace stress" within the flexible work environment of the future is urgently needed. This will support the development of a "people-focused", "distributed" and "footloose" approach to facility and support services management, based on a sensitive understanding of the new stresses that flexible working might bring, and the opportunities and risks that they can entail.

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