Positive steps can be taken to mitigate the effects of a high pressure job or long working hours, enabling employees to strike the right balance between work and play. Sarah Dowding reports Do you believe you spend more time working than playing? Do you have a successful career but no time to spend your hard-earned cash? Do you compare your productivity with that of your colleagues, staying at work later than others? If so, you are not alone. A disturbing proportion of those asked in a Management Today survey think their health suffers because of work and 20% say they drink to ease the pressure of work. Eight per cent turn to counselling or therapy. Nearly half of those surveyed say they feel guilty when they leave work on time, particularly women and those in large organisations. The responses make for uncomfortable reading because they indicate a huge minority of overworked, stressed, unappreciated and discontented employees. We are experiencing radical changes in the labour market with more dual income families, more working women and an ageing workforce. They combine to put pressure on employees' personal and working life. At the same time companies are facing global competition and becoming more service and information oriented. They are challenged to get more from less without compromising the business or its people, and to meet the needs of both. However, an increasing number of top executives are refusing to sacrifice their quality of life on the altar of success. Today's generation have different expectations to their predecessors about the quality of their working life. Successful people will look elsewhere if their employers don't offer them what they want. John Knell of the Industrial Society says: "Today's free workers move quickly between jobs and assignments, transferring ideas, skills and attitudes. They are independent but not individualistic, distrust structures but depend on networks. They want equity but they want excitement too." One of the most consistent demands heard from employees and employers is the desire to work flexibly and yet most organisations struggle to do this well. Achieving a balance between demands of work and private life is a significant business issue for managers. Historically, flexible working has been perceived as a benefit for women with children. Now some companies will consider any flexible working proposition for whatever reason, as long as it doesn't impact on the business. This flexibility also helps to retain the best staff and has a positive impact on employee commitment and improved performance. So what are the options? - Working from home (or teleworking). There is a shift from manual labour to mind labour and modern IT gives employees flexibility and mobility. E-mail access and mobile phones free people of company structures. Many use their experience and contacts from one company to the next, or even set up on their own. This negates the need for commuting. - Compressed hours. By working longer days a 40-hour week can be compressed into a three or four day week - Flexi-hours. Working times to suit yourself. There are usually stipulations such as compulsory office hours between 10am and 2pm for example, and so a day could be from 6am until 2pm for example. - Compulsory regular holidays. Eighty five per cent of managers think holidays should be compulsory to avoid stress or overwork among staff. If you are unable to do any of the above, then, at the very least, follow the Tombstone Test and be aware of what your needs are. Rarely has anyone looked back and wished they had spent that extra hour in the office. Take a moment to think what you really want to be remembered for. What would your obituary say? Always last out of the office and often stressed and irritable'? {{LEADING EDGE }}