Why hybrid work risks burning out workers


Heading into the office for the 9-to-5 is no longer the norm for many workers, who now spend at least part of their week working from home. When done right, hybrid work benefits both employers and employees. However, being split between office and home – without the right approach by organizations – can lead to some unexpected problems, including burnout.

There’s no doubt that hybrid work is the future for many firms. Greater flexibility allows people more time for family and friends, saves commuting time, and enables people to focus on work with fewer distractions. For remote-capable employees, hybrid work provides the flexibility to work in ways that are the most time efficient for them. These benefits carry through to employers, too – improving performance and helping companies retain workers.

For all the advantages hybrid working offers, however, there is no denying that it changes how employees interact and engage with an organization. And if hybrid work is treated as an afterthought – and managed poorly – it can have a seriously detrimental impact on employees.

A lack of communication and clear direction can cause burnout

For remote working to work, employers need to make sure people can communicate easily, whether that is via Teams, Slack, or email. If a problem needs to be sorted, it’s important for people to be able to contact each other easily. It’s also crucial for a remote role’s tasks and processes to be well-defined. Without open lines of communication and clear direction, it’s easy for workers to become stressed – which over time, can turn into burnout.

A lack of trust can erode morale and lead to stress

Trust is also key. Managers and leaders want to know their employees are doing their work, but hybrid and remote work require people to move away from micromanaging or passive-aggressive forms of management.

Often, those working outside of the office may feel under pressure to be able to jump on last-minute calls or reply to messages simply to prove they aren’t slacking off. Not only is this a waste of time, but it is often a sign of a lack of trust between managers and employees, which can erode morale and exacerbate stress.

Data collected from 50,000 UK employees by the employee engagement firm Inpulse found those who feel well-supported by their managers are 3.4 times more engaged at work. Importantly, workers who felt trusted and respected by their line managers were far more engaged compared to those who didn’t.

“The juxtaposition of trust and support, the two factors with the greatest impact on engagement, indicates that there is a delicate balance to strike between being available to offer help and support and taking a step back to empower people to get on with their work,” says Jodie Harrison, insights consultant at Inpulse.

“Ultimately, this enables higher productivity, engagement, and well-being at work. Listening to employees’ ideas and caring about employee wellbeing

Some workers put in longer hours when working from home. Photo: Getty
Some workers put in longer hours when working from home. Photo: Getty

Unrealistic expectations and overwork

As well as trust, managers also need to have realistic expectations when it comes to how many remote or hybrid workers can do. Overwork culture is thriving and studies have shown people often put in longer hours when working from home. Workers are encouraged to hustle, which easily leads to burnout. However, well-rested employees who get adequate downtime are more productive than those who feel pressured to work out-of-hours.

Vicky Walker, group people director at Westfield Health, says emailing outside of work hours has long been an issue, but it has become more of a problem with the rise of hybrid work. In 2021, a survey found workers around the world were putting in an average of 9.2 hours of unpaid overtime per week – up from 7.3 hours the previous year.

“This, coupled with hybrid working, has created an environment in workplaces where employees increasingly feel like they never leave work and need to be available 24/7,” says Walker. “This can have a hugely negative impact on their well-being, with many struggling to cope with the pressure of always needing to be online.

“Sending and responding to emails outside of normal working hours can also harm job performance,” she adds. “Rather than increase productivity, the exhaustion of trying to juggle emails and other tasks results in less work being done and employees feeling less engaged.”

Creating a hybrid-friendly culture

Workplace culture is more important than ever. Building lasting habits is key to keeping hybrid workers happy and healthy, which includes managing workloads and making sure people switch off out-of-hours.

“Employers need to take a proactive approach to create a consistent and health-focused

a culture that benefits their employees,” says Walker. “Focusing on workplace wellbeing also requires a flexible approach, with varied health and wellbeing policies that can fit around the individual needs of both office and home workers.

“As working habits continue to shift and evolve, prioritizing wellbeing will benefit your people, support their mental health, and build a team who are happier and more engaged.”

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