Retail workers struggle to balance work and quality of life as long hours and stress take hold

International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management

ISSN: 0959-0552

Article publication date: 1 July 2003

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Citation

Roberts, B. (2003), "Retail workers struggle to balance work and quality of life as long hours and stress take hold", International Journal of Retail & Distribution Management, Vol. 31 No. 7. https://doi.org/10.1108/ijrdm.2003.08931gab.002

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2003, MCB UP Limited


Retail workers struggle to balance work and quality of life as long hours and stress take hold

Retail workers struggle to balance work and quality of life as long hours and stress take hold

British employees would rather work shorter hours than win the lottery

Nearly a third of Britain's retail workers would like to get a better balance but think that their career would suffer according to a new survey into working patterns across the UK.

The survey, carried out by the Department of Trade and Industry's (DTI) Work-Life Balance Campaign and Management Today, revealed that workers would rather work more sensible hours than win the lottery and that there has been a steep rise in the number of people who work excessive hours over the last two years.

The study also raises concerns about long hours and illness, as seven out of ten stressed workers do not have any access to formal flexible working practices. There is strong evidence to suggest that long hours and lack of flexible working options have a detrimental effect on stress levels. British industry loses £370 million every year to stress-related sick leave (Health & Safety Executive).

The main findings are:

  • A quarter (24 per cent) of retail staff are working over 60 hours a week.

  • More than a third (37 per cent) of retail staff think that working long hours is essential to their career progression, and three in ten (30 per cent) believe that working long hours is the key to success.

  • Six in ten (62 per cent) retail staff currently work overtime, and of these, only half (52 per cent) are rewarded with extra pay or time off in lieu.

  • One in five (20 per cent) retail workers are stressed at work. They are also more likely to take their stress home, with one in seven (15 per cent) feeling the strain outside the office.

  • One in five (19 per cent) retail workers have visited the doctor because of stress.

  • A quarter (24 per cent) of retail workers attribute their stress to dealing with difficult customers.

  • Half of employees (48 per cent) within the retail sector say that their employer will only step in to redress a work-life problem when a crisis looms.

  • The majority of retail workers (86 per cent) think that their employers are right to put business goals first, but over half (52 per cent) also believe that it is the employer's responsibility to help staff balance their work and home lives.

  • Over half (54 per cent) of retail workers with commitments outside the workplace say that work always or usually comes first.

  • Only three in ten (30 per cent) retail workers play regular sport compared to an average of four in ten (40 per cent) across all the sectors surveyed.

Other key findings from across the UK as a whole show that:

  • One in six (16 per cent) of workers surveyed now work over 60 hours a week compared to just one in eight (12 per cent) of all UK workers in 2000.

  • The number of women working over 60 hours has more than doubled from 1 in 16 (6 per cent) in 2000 to approximately one in eight today (13 per cent).

  • Twice as many employees would rather work shorter hours than win the lottery.

  • The largest proportion of very stressed workers – one in five (19 per cent) – are in their mid to late 30s.

  • One in five (19 per cent) men have visited the doctor because of stress, rising to one quarter (23 per cent) of over 40s.

  • Four in ten (40 per cent) unstressed workers play regular sport compared to one quarter (25 per cent) of those with high stress levels.

The government is committed to helping make flexible working an option for all workers, in particular those with young families. From April 2003, parents of young and disabled children will gain the right to apply to work flexibly and employers will have to consider their requests seriously. Maternity leave and pay will increase and fathers will have a new right to paternity leave. These new rights will increase parents' opportunities to work flexibly. The DTI is also running a campaign to encourage all employers to introduce ways of working which improve the work-life balance of their employees but which also benefit business success.

Commenting on the findings, Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, said: "More and more British workers are recognising that balancing quality of life and family is as important as a fulfilling career. People clearly want greater control and choice over their working hours but lack the confidence and the knowledge to do anything about it.

"Stressed workers with frayed nerves cannot perform to their maximum and employers know the damage this can do to commercial success – stress costs British industry £370 million a year. That is why it is down to employers and employees to work together to find sensible work-life balance solutions, which will result in better results, higher productivity and increased commitment.

"I am determined to get the merits of flexible working onto the business agenda, especially for the parents of young children who often find it the most difficult to balance work and home life. From April 2003, parents of children aged under six, or disabled children under 18, will have greater opportunities to work flexibly and new parents will also enjoy improved maternity and paternity allowances."

Matthew Gwyther, editor of Management Today, added: "This is the fourth year Management Today has conducted a survey into work-life balance. The phrase is now firmly established as part of our business lexicon, yet the results show that in reality many employees are still struggling to achieve it.

"Let's not forget that for some employees working a 60-hour-week is enjoyable – they do it because they want to. But for others long hours are a source of stress. Stressed employees have a negative impact on the business and employers must combat this by putting in place formal policies that allow for a more flexible approach to work. Helping workers to balance their work and home lives is no longer simply a supplement to traditional management methods, but essential best practice."

The DTI Work-Life Balance Campaign

The DTI's Work-Life Balance Campaign was launched in March 2000. The aim of the campaign is to persuade employers to introduce ways of working which meet the needs of the business and customers while simultaneously improving the work-life balance of their employees.

Further information about the DTI Work-Life Balance Campaign can be found on www.dti.gov.uk/work-lifebalance