“The future is hybrid.”
Adam Grant tweeted as he described an experimental study with 1600 people for six months where they were randomly assigned to either the hybrid work group (which had two days of remote work in a week) or a full on-site group with no remote work. Attrition rates in the hybrid group were significantly lower than the on-site group along with increase in job satisfaction in people doing hybrid work and there was no cost to performance or promotions.
In 2020, remote work had been touted as a time-saving move with fewer hours spent in commuting that were allocated to the primary jobs, household chores, and child care. It seemed like a win-win situation even though there was concern about zoom fatigue and other challenges associated with remote work and hybrid work, especially for women with respect to opportunities for mentorship and sponsorship and assumptions of less commitment to their work.
Gender and burnout
Recent articles from this year show a relationship between hybrid work and burnout with some describing hybrid work as “emotionally exhausting”. A 2022 Deloitte Women@Work report found that Indian women were more likely to experience burnout than their peers in other countries even in the hybrid workplace where they face more microaggressions from colleagues if they work either remotely or in a hybrid set-up. This same 2022 study by Deloitte conducted a survey of 5000 working women from 10 countries. More than 90% of these women believed that requests for flexible work options would hamper their promotion prospects. Hybrid work made 60% of them feel shut out of important meetings.
This is aligned with the HBR article which cautions women about the potential disadvantages for women working remotely or in a hybrid context due to their less visibility and their commitment more likely to be questioned as they balance work and home responsibilities. This is not a new phenomenon. In a pre-pandemic research study exploring the gender inequality in scientific research organizations, one of the themes that emerged from the interviews was how women are not in the lab 24/7 and do not fit the “ideal worker” concept that reflects their lack of commitment.
What can be done?
- Allow people flexibility to set their own hours. People want freedom to choose how and when they should work. Not allowing this flexibility would contribute to the great attrition.
- Zoom fatigue can be prevented by switching off the camera as it is believed to contribute to the fatigue and burnout. A 2021 field experiment showed that switching off videos reduces exhaustion and boosts engagement—especially for women and newcomers. If the camera is off, it does not lead to disengagement. It helps to prevent burnout and promote attention. Recent research also shows that constant eye contact is not needed in engaging discussions as both locking eyes (for shared understanding) and looking away (for independent thought) are important.
- According to a recent HBR article on optimal hybrid work cultures, hybrid work works only when all employees are treated as remote employees. They emphasize the following five points- embrace asynchronous communication to ensure equal opportunities in conversations (especially relevant for teams in different time zones), make communication boundaries clear (setting expectations ahead of time, making working hours clear), champion documentation, share information widely (newsletters from leaders, broadcasting achievements and summarizing their work), and provide the right tools (like collaborative software, ergonomic furniture for remote work days) for employees to succeed.
- Communication of a clear hybrid work plan is one of the ways of reducing employee’s anxiety.
- If the leaders support regular breaks and good boundaries between personal and professional lives and expectations around emails, it can help employees manage their stress better. This would prevent the “always on” mindset of the company and create a healthier workplace culture.
- Both generational and gender differences in burnout need to be paid attention to. Not everyone reacts to the change in work setting (in-person to remote to hybrid for example) in the same way. Women have reported greater mental exhaustion at the end of the workday than men in the last few years. A 2021 survey showed that Gen Z were experiencing the highest rates of burnout and it is believed that their unique situation of lack of power at work and financial instability has led them to have less boundaries at work and the inability to say no.
More than half of employees surveyed in the workplace globally are prioritizing health and wellbeing over work than before the pandemic, according to Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index Report. According to this report, people have “reshaped their priorities, identities, and worldview” in terms of what they consider important. The flexibility of work options (remote and hybrid) is especially vital for Gen Z individuals. Therefore, this balance of hybrid and remote work with work wellbeing has to be managed in a manner that will prevent burnout.