Local newsNews

You don’t have to occupy the top job to experience burnout

38% of hybrid workers say the greatest challenge of hybrid is knowing when/why to come to the office, yet only 28% of companies have created team agreements that create team norms around hybrid work.

January 2023 saw one of the most high-profile cases of burnout we’ve seen to date, with New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing that she is stepping down as she “no longer has enough in the tank” to do the job. Of course, you don’t have to occupy the top job to experience burnout; it can affect anyone, whatever their role. But what is it, and how can employers best adopt hybrid working to ensure their workers don’t fall victim to it?

What is burnout?

The WHO defines burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” – a syndrome “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Burnout tends to manifest itself in a number of symptoms that employers may recognise among their workforce, such as chronic exhaustion, changes in mood, and even physical symptoms, such as stress headaches.

Pre-pandemic commuting was one of the most significant sources of stress for workers. Indeed, one university study found that adding just 20 minutes to daily commuting time could have the same negative impact on job satisfaction as taking a 19% pay cut. IWG CEO Mark Dixon described it as the “key enemy” of workers; of course, that was before COVID-19 sparked the hybrid working revolution that’s now helping workers reduce their commuting time – and with it, the likelihood of suffering burnout. ​ ​

Hybrid working is the idea of working close to home, mixing office time with working from coworking spaces near where employees live—exemplified by the 15-minute commute. It has numerous benefits for employees, not least the time freed up when they don’t have to battle overcrowded public transport or traffic jams getting to and from work each day. That’s a significant cause of burnout eliminated straightaway.

Good leadership

While hybrid’s benefits to employees are indisputable, businesses need to think carefully about managing it to avoid other possible causes of burnout arising from this mode of working. A survey by Swinburne, discussed in this article by Forbes, suggests that good leadership is essential in unlocking the full potential of hybrid—yet it also highlights that around a quarter of respondents regularly work remotely despite the absence of any formal remote working policy in their company.

A Microsoft survey illustrated the potential problems with this: “38% of hybrid workers say the greatest challenge of hybrid is knowing when/why to come to the office, yet only 28% of companies have created team agreements that create team norms around hybrid work.”

The result of this ad hoc approach? Employees can end up with their work-life boundaries blurred, meaning it’s harder to switch off from work at the end of the working day. This means more hours working or thinking about work (whether as paid employees or in additional unpaid parenting or caregiver roles), which can itself lead to burnout.

As Deloitte’s Emma Codd, quoted by Quartz, puts it, businesses that take “an ad hoc approach to hybrid work make things harder for some people—particularly caregivers.” This, she argues, can lead to uncertainty, which in turn leads to stress. For this reason, it’s incumbent on business leaders to ensure their company has a hybrid policy that makes remote working beneficial rather than raising employees’ stress levels.

“But a solid hybrid policy is only part of the equation. This must be supplemented by clear communication and leadership from those enacting the system within the company. For example, employees should feel empowered to work when they are most productive rather than shackled by strict shift times. An open dialogue between managers and teams helps set these expectations and ensures hybrid is supported by good leadership, says Joanne Bushell, MD, IWG, South Africa

What should the ideal hybrid policy look like?

A hybrid policy should reflect a watertight hybrid strategy, and above all, it should put employee wellbeing front and centre, covering points such as digital wellness (for example, the need to set boundaries around emails) and in-person meetings. Employee mental health is one of the biggest focuses for 2024, and a hybrid policy should support this.

It should address how many days a week employees are expected to be in the office and whether any set days are mandated. Notably, across the board and regardless of a company’s size, the HR experts IWG spoke to in its recent research agreed three was the ideal number of in-office days for employees.

Guidance is also vital as it supports the autonomy employees need to shape their working lives. As this article puts it, “Without clear and specific guidance around hybrid work, it’s easy to see how some employees are denied the opportunity to shape their flexible work routine and collaborate with teammates in a fulfilling way.”

Autonomy is one of the ‘personal resources’ employers can give workers to help them avoid burnout in a hybrid situation, alongside ways of reducing fatigue. Indeed, Accenture’s Future of Work report found that employees who worked hybrid experienced less burnout. Still, importantly, “the most healthy and effective individuals were not those who had an absence of negative work stressors, but those who had the most positive resources.” Backing up what we’ve discussed here, these resources also include health policies and supportive leadership.

Rotman’s Future of Work report has further suggestions, arguing that remote work can both amplify and mitigate inequalities. The report advocates facilitating consistent communication, offering employees a range of options for flexible work to suit different needs, establishing that workers know that they don’t have to work longer hours at home, and eliminating employee monitoring.

‘Hub and spoke’

It’s clear that hybrid has much to offer in terms of employee benefits, but to fully unlock its potential, it has to be supported with strong leadership, clear communication, and robust policy. A good solution for employers is to give workers access to workplaces closer to their homes, adopting the so-called hub and spoke model. This eliminates the stress associated with commuting long distances – and the isolation of working from home.

Discover how IWG can help your company beat burnout with advice on your workplace strategy and access to 3,500 flexible workspaces worldwide.

Related Articles

Back to top button