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Hybrid working: The golden goose and the burnout paradox

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Head Cheerleader for Career Magic Ekua Cant explores the golden goose and the burnout paradox of hybrid working and employee wellbeing.

22nd Nov 2021
Career Coach Be Your No. 1 Cheerleader
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Hybrid working has the potential to reduce office real-estate and provide cost savings for companies. It also provides the opportunity for you to create a more inclusive work culture. 

With the opportunity to hire a range of different kinds of talent where the office environment is not as easy to navigate, including those with disabilities, and caring responsibilities of any kind whether that’s children or elderly parents. 

It has the potential to increase employee well-being and happiness if done well. But there are also dangers that hybrid working can cause for employee safety, wellbeing and mental health. 

Safe as houses at home 

Whilst working from home allows your employee more flexibility, it also robs them of some of the good architecture of a well-maintained office. I am talking about not treating the home as a place of work, and not equipping your employees to be safe and properly equipped to carry out their duties. Consider the list below:

  • Having an adjustable office chair

  • Having an adjustable monitor or monitor that’s an appropriate size to support your employee and their work 

  • Providing your employee with a work laptop 

  • Providing your employee with a mobile 

  • Giving your employee guidance on creating a safe workspace at home 

When you look at the list, you might think any good company worth their salt would have these things in place. Consider the last point on the list, have you issued any guidance to your employees on how to create a safe workspace at home? This is to show your employee that you take their health and safety in their home office seriously. 

Does your company have any active policies that support good mental health for your employees?

Mentally inescapable – help it’s become hard to separate work and life!

There are many benefits to employees working at home. One of the areas that I think is less well-considered, is the toll that this can have on an employee’s mental health. If your home is now your office, it is easier to over-work and easy to forget to take breaks because there are no other colleagues that may pop by your desk to ask questions or invite you to go to lunch. 

HR is responsible for creating policies that look after the safety and well-being of employees. Does your company have any active policies that support good mental health for your employees? Savvy companies are onto this with buying access to apps that promote mindfulness. I’d like to explore the topic further by raising a related issue which is employee burnout

Managers should focus their attention in three key areas: modelling work-life boundaries, supporting employee well-being, and ensuring that performance is evaluated based on results.

Burnout and the talent drain

An obvious cost of burnout is sickness and the knock-on effects it has on team members who are asked to pick up the slack in their colleague’s absence, high levels of team stress and of course churn. Looking at the aforementioned list it doesn’t bear thinking about, these costs are high and these issues are firmly in the remit of HR and the leadership of your organisation. 

The evidence suggests that “While 87% of companies say it’s critical for managers to support employee well-being, only 25% of them formally recognize this work.” So there is a clear disconnect between the recognition of the problem and companies taking action on it. 

Mckinsey, in their recent report, stated, “The path forward is clear. Companies need to take bold steps to address burnout. They need to recognize and reward the women leaders who are driving progress. And they need to do the deep cultural work required to create a workplace where all women feel valued.”

They also highlight that “Additionally, four in ten women have considered leaving their company or switching jobs—and high employee turnover in recent months suggests that many of them are following through.”

They finally conclude that “When managers support employee well-being and companies prioritize DEI, employees are happier, less burned out, and less likely to consider leaving their jobs. In spite of all this, relatively few companies formally recognize employees who go above and beyond in these areas—and this needs to change.” 

One thing that is easily missed by companies is that “many companies are missing a crucial piece: without clear boundaries, flexible work can quickly turn into “always-on” work.” Not having clear policies around working hours or clearly defining and acknowledging the exception to the rules that have been created to create those boundaries for employees. 

Finally whilst HR has a big role to play in this I agree that “Managers are on the front lines of employees’ day-to-day experiences, which means their actions have a significant impact on employee burnout and well-being. To improve outcomes, managers should focus their attention in three key areas: modelling work-life boundaries, supporting employee well-being, and ensuring that performance is evaluated based on results.” Managers, leaders and HR should lead by example in this regard. Now to provide some remedies.

Three ways to prevent employee burnout for HR leaders

1. Understand the value of holidays for wellbeing

Put simply, you can’t pour from an empty cup and neither can your employees. So encourage employees to take their holidays without guilt and encourage a culture that sees the value of employees getting good rest. Well-rested employees tend to be happier and have a lower incidence of sickness.

2. Give employees resources to help them disconnect and not “always be on”

Burnout and mental fatigue can be reduced by helping and supporting your employees to disconnect by the use of mindfulness apps. Or providing other resources to give them a break to engage in healthy pursuits such as exercise or taking a walk.

3. Communication with empathy about hybrid working 

Recognise as I opened this article that hybrid working is very Marmite in terms of the response it invokes in employees. Communicate clearly about what your policies are and the total offer of support for working-from-home. Recognising that employees will feel differently about returning to work. 

Working with managers to make the experience as holistic as possible will enable employees to feel valued and understood, and less like a widget! Because there are no widgets in your companies, you are a collection of individuals working together in collaboration to fulfil your organization's mission. 

If you would like to get in touch with me about my corporate wellness workshops or my e-learning personal development package for professional women, please book a time to discuss your requirements.

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