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Burnout on the rise: is hybrid working to blame?

Whether we like it or not, the world of work is changing, and with those changes come a host of fresh challenges to test the adaptability of employers and employees alike. One of the most significant shifts for many has, of course, been the pandemic-fuelled growth in home working. But is working from home good or bad for us? Ben Moss, Managing Director at Robertson Cooper, shares his view.

Initially expected by most to be a relatively short-term novelty during lockdown, home working is now a fixture for many employees, either as a full-time commitment or a regular day or two each week as part of a blended approach by employers. At the time, this work structure was forcibly imposed but the unexpected benefits were widely reported, including more time with family at the start and end of the day, less time commuting and more time for exercise. But more recently, a survey by LemonEdge found that a third of respondents believe home and hybrid working introduced since the pandemic has increased their sense of burnout. Quite a turnaround! There could be a number of reasons for those findings.

Finding a new groove

Firstly, working life is only just settling into its new, post-lockdown routine. During the periods of enforced working from home, many employees found a renewed sense of balance as daily commutes were replaced by increased family time. But in parallel, those used to shared office spaces lost some connection with their colleagues, spent time hunched over keyboards in the evenings as they juggled work and personal commitments, and often packed a slew of Zoom calls into their daily schedules.

Now that many employers are encouraging hybrid working for their staff, there is a wide range of different experiences and reactions. The transition has probably been most disruptive for those who were once completely officed-based. No one has shown them how to navigate this new way of working; how to handle factors such as remote management, finding time to fit in work tasks around endless Zoom meetings or managing the boundaries between work and personal life. It’s often this lack of support and skill-building that causes stress for employees who, in hybrid working environments, suddenly find themselves making it up as they go along.

At the same time, more people are now expected to travel to their employer’s place of work for at least part of each week. So the day is once again bookended with travel time, squeezing the working day and inevitably making workloads feel more challenging… just at a time when many had got out of the habit and structured their lives to make home working functional in the context of their wider lives.

Make space to learn and rest

LemonEdge’s survey suggests that men are feeling the stress of this new regime more keenly than women. That may partly be down to historical factors and deeply ingrained behaviours. Stress happens when pressure exceeds our ability to cope. Very often, men still see themselves in the traditional sense, as breadwinners. As such, they put pressure on themselves in work contexts where ‘more’ is often seen as ‘better’.

In general, women are perhaps more emotionally aware than men and also more used to the balancing act of managing multiple work-life priorities, making them better prepared for the demands of hybrid working. But this gap can be closed and, indeed, Robertson Cooper’s work with clients has shown that personal development and training around energy management and resilience can make a huge difference to those struggling with the stress of managing newly hybrid work environments.

Rest has also always been an important part of mitigating pressure, but the ‘hero’ leadership style of the past made that idea seem taboo to many. One positive to come out of home working has been the way it has opened the eyes of even the most hardboiled workers to the tangible benefits of rest: walking the dog in the park, playing with the kids in the garden or reading a book that has nothing to do with work were all suddenly possible in your lunchbreak during lockdown. Consequently, there has been a shift in attitudes over the past 2 years, with employees prizing their wellbeing and rest more highly than once before. Depending on your employer, this latest version of ‘normal’ can either enhance or threaten that.

Enjoying some ‘me-time’ can be a real circuit breaker for many of us, but getting the most out of it requires an awareness of what works for you personally. For example, some people find social drinking with friends constitutes rest, while for others it’s a maladaptive coping strategy. Some people need sleep, others need exercise or time alone to re-energise. There really is no one-size-fits all approach that works equally well for everyone. The main requirement is that each of us needs to give ourselves permission to rest, understanding that, in the long-term, its hugely beneficial to us, our families and even our employers.

Should I stay or should I go?

Another finding from LemonEdge’s survey was that more than 60% of respondents want to leave their position or industry because of work pressure. It is true that, if unchecked, the build-up of pressure on employees affects them in every sphere of their lives. So how can organisations counteract that serious risk to staff turnover?

At Robertson Cooper, we recently carried out research based on our own extensive survey data. We revealed a strong statistical relationship between intention to leave and the number of Good Days at Work experienced by an employee. For example, employees with the lowest overall Good Day at Work score had an intention to leave score that was 3.5 times greater than those with the highest Good Day at Work score. In particular, our data reveals that feeling energetic and getting on well with colleagues are the two strongest drivers of an employee’s desire to stay or leave.

In other words, employers who consistently deliver Good Days at Work to their employees – underpinned by health, wellbeing, energy and good relationships – give themselves the best chance of attracting and retaining the best talent.

Ultimately, it isn’t so much the workplace itself that affects staff attrition or burnout, but the work culture. Whether they’re working at home, in an office, on a construction site, in an HGV or any other kind of environment, employees are looking for employers that value their health and wellbeing. And that needs to be an organisation-wide, long-term commitment, not just lip service. That’s a big ask for some employers, but if they get it right the pay-off from creating more Good Days at Work is enormous.

To find out more about how Good Days at Work boost wellbeing, staff retention and productivity, download our Guide to creating Good Days at Work.

Are you looking to give your employees an energy boost? Take a look at our Energy Management workshop.