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Flexibility is key to keeping overworked staff happy

For many Canadians, the traditional nine-to-five workday is a thing of the past and as a result nearly half report feeling burnt out. That's one of the findings of a new study, the Staples Advantage Workplace Index, conducted by Staples Advantage, the business-to-business division of Staples, which surveyed more than 1,000 employees across Canada to identify workplace trends.

The study found 49 per cent of Canadian respondents said burnout was a motivator for a new job search and 39 per cent said more workplace flexibility would make them more productive. Surprisingly, the study also found the vast majority (89 per cent) of employees are happy at their jobs and motivated to move up in their organizations.

At first glance it seems odd that so many employees say they're overworked, but also claim they're happy in their positions. It's possible they've become used to the "always-on" nature of today's office environment and just expect to be overworked. But that doesn't necessarily mean they're as motivated as they could be. How can employers ensure they're maximizing the productivity of their work force and minimizing turnover? According to the research, there are several easy steps companies can take:

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Allow telecommuting and flexible schedule options:

Nearly one-third of employees reported they stay at the office after hours to complete work they don't have time to finish during the day. Allowing employees to work from home, or on a schedule that allows them to avoid rush-hour commuting, gives them more time to get their work done. Flexible schedules can also help employees better balance their personal and professional lives – a key contributor to workplace happiness. In fact, when considering a new job, more employees value work-life balance (56 per cent) than an increased salary (53 per cent). Half of Canadians also said providing more time to complete work would minimize burnout.

Put more thought into office layout and equipment:

A major hindrance to office productivity is workplace distraction. Half the employees surveyed said a distraction-free environment would boost their output by between 20 and 30 per cent. Loud co-workers are a major source of frustration with more than half of respondents citing them as the leading hindrance to better productivity. Office technology is another factor employers should consider. Whether it's faster PCs, tablets, smartphones, a bring-your-own-device to work policy, or software, office workers want tools that make them more productive. More than a quarter of all employees – and more than one-third of millennials – said better technology would boost their workplace happiness.

Keep intra-office communication manageable:

E-mail is the predominant form of communication for most employees. It's easy to craft and send messages to large audiences, keeping them up to date on projects, policies, or the upcoming office party. Unfortunately it takes time for workers to read each of those messages – in many cases too much time according to the research. Half of employees say they receive too much e-mail and of those who say they receive too much, more than one-third say it directly impacts their productivity. Another source of frustration is meetings. One-fifth of respondents said they spend more than two hours each day in meetings and nearly one-quarter of employees said meetings were inefficient. Employers should take steps to ensure unnecessary e-mail is kept to a minimum and intra-office meetings are only scheduled when absolutely required.

Make time for breaks:

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The popular image of a productive employee is one with their nose buried in their work. But even the best employees could benefit from breaks in their workday to recharge their mental energy. Unfortunately, half the workers surveyed said they don't feel they can get up from their desks to take a break. Nearly half eat lunch at their desk and a few workers (two per cent) even said they don't have time to eat lunch at all. One-third of employees said encouraging breaks would help them feel less burnt out.

Michael Zahra is president of Staples Advantage Canada, the business-to-business division of Staples.

Dan Schawbel is the founder of WorkplaceTrends.com, a research and advisory membership service for HR professionals and the managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm.

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