More UK companies are using staff benefits to safeguard their employees' wellbeing, as bosses wake up to the dangers of organisational stress.

A joint survey by FirstAssist and the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) highlighted the growing number of employers offering benefits aimed at improving staff health. Researchers found that over half (51%) of employers who responded now offer flexible working hours, 42% provide an employee counselling service and 28% offer private medical insurance. Other popular perks aimed at enhancing workplace wellbeing included regular health screenings and free health and lifestyle advice.

Enlightened employers are also taking a more relaxed attitude to the amount of time staff spend in work. The survey of over 200 line managers found that only 14% worked over 40 hours a week, and none worked more than 60. For the 14% of managers who do regularly work overtime, one in three do so for the personal satisfaction they gain, while an equal number felt obliged to work because of the culture. A further eight per cent regularly worked longer hours because they enjoyed the social interaction with colleagues.

Further evidence of employers' increasingly holistic approach to staff wellbeing can be seen in their changing attitudes to sickness absence.

Heightened awareness of the pitfalls of the 'presenteeism' phenomenon - where staff feel obliged to come into work when they are too tired or ill to be effective - is pushing bosses to take a more understanding approach to employee illness. Only 14% of respondents said they worry about taking time off sick because it is frowned upon by management, while 74% will happily phone in sick and speak to their line manager.