Hybrid Work and Employee Burnout

July 9th, 2021

As companies make the massive transition to hybrid work, avoiding employee burnout during this moment of upheaval will be key. Here are five ways human resources professionals can help stave off employee burnout and increase wellbeing in a world of hybrid work.

More than 40% of workers globally are considering leaving their jobs this year. This means decreasing the level of employee burnout in our organizations is not only the right thing to do, it’s also crucial for companies who want to retain their employees in a complex job market that will only grow more competitive in the coming months.

Hybrid work models may be one way to reduce employee burnout, if implemented correctly. Employees favor this model, with some surveys showing more than 70 percent want flexible remote work options to continue past the pandemic. Hybrid models are popular among many knowledge workers looking to take advantage of the deep work and focus they can achieve at home as well as the social connection and in-person collaboration of the office.

As remote work expert Nicholas Bloom sees it, hybrid work is “the best of both worlds.”

Yet with tired employees experiencing burnout and frustration after a year of upheaval and a hectic transition to remote work, many leaders wonder whether navigating yet another major shift will further hurt their employees’ wellbeing. Fortunately, there are some strategies that human resources professionals can use to make this next transition a little more smooth.

Here are five key steps to avoiding employee burnout as your organization moves to a hybrid work model.

Prioritize communicating your hybrid work plan Reports indicate that one of the major sources of anxiety around hybrid work is the lack of a clear plan. Ambiguity about what hybrid work will look like as the pandemic subsides is making these anxieties worse: in one survey, 47% of respondents felt that the lack of a clear vision about hybrid work at their company was a cause for concern. The same survey reported that two-thirds of organizations have had lackluster, if any, communication about the specifics of hybrid work beyond the pandemic. This means communicating effectively about your hybrid work plan will not only reduce your employees’ anxiety, it will also give you a competitive advantage over organizations with leaders who aren’t willing or able to craft clear communications to help employees through this transition.

Beyond the logistics and the day-to-day details of hybrid work, internal communications should also acknowledge the anxieties and fears that employees are likely experiencing. Don’t just tell employees what’s expected of them––make sure to also communicate the value of hybrid work when it comes to work-life balance, flexibility, and overall wellbeing. This will help tired employees feel rejuvenated and optimistic as they weather this big transition.

Encourage good boundaries to stave off employee burnout One of the key factors that led to employee burnout during the pandemic was the lack of boundaries around communication and work/life balance. As remote work fatigue set in, it became clear that both the increased pace of digital communications and the blurring of work and home life were taking their toll. Human resources leaders looking to develop a hybrid work plan that will lessen employee burnout must consider the issues that tend to be worsened by the remote side of hybrid work, including digital distraction, virtual overload, and the need to be always “on.”

Helping employees create good boundaries can help. This may include guidelines around meetings––for example, protected blocks of time for focused individual work, or a rule that no meetings can be held without an agenda. It can also include encouraging thoughtful digital communication practices. Leaders might draft a note for their email footers explaining that while they may send emails beyond regular office hours, they don’t expect an immediate response. Whatever form these details might take at your organization, it’s essential that employees know working remotely part of the time doesn’t mean they’re expected to be available all of the time. And that company leaders support regular breaks, good boundaries, and reasonable expectations around email, messages, and more.

Support your managers in the transition to hybrid work Managers will play a central role in helping minimize employee burnout during and beyond the transition to hybrid work. But remember that a hybrid workplace will call for new management skills, and give your managers time to adjust. Not every manager’s leadership style will translate across both remote and hybrid settings. Introverted managers may be more likely to thrive on the remote side of hybrid work, for example, while extroverted managers may struggle to connect with their teams when not collaborating in person, leading to frustrated employees and unclear communication.

Make sure that managers know they have your support as they take on new tasks like approving their reports’ shifting hybrid schedules and running multi-modal meetings. On the issue of burnout, give managers tools to help recognize signs of employee burnout and consider investing in training about how to foster employee wellbeing whether reports are working from the office or from home.

More than anything, it’s essential that organizations make clear they understand this is a big transition, and that it’s stressful for managers in unique ways. This will ensure that this key layer of your organization feels supported, secure, and focused on helping their teams thrive.

Use the right metrics to avoid burnout and measure hybrid work productivity Just because your employees have stayed productive during the transition to remote work doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not burnt out. For example, in a survey by Microsoft, self-assessed productivity remained the same over the past year, while measures indicating burnout increased. In the short term, this kind of productivity at the expense of wellbeing may seem workable––but it doesn’t bode well for creativity, team functionality, or retention in the long run.

Keeping an eye on the right metrics when it comes to both burnout and productivity will help. Frequent and well-considered engagement around employee wellbeing will empower managers and leaders with accurate and up-to-date information about their employees’ attitudes and experiences around work. Similarly, organizations must be strategic about which metrics they use to measure productivity. In particular, focusing on outputs, rather than inputs, is key. This means staying away from surveillance software that tracks hours spent in certain programs, and discouraging managers and leaders from being overly focused on chat or email response times.

For knowledge workers, the best measures of productivity will focus on consistent quality output over extended periods of time. These metrics empower workers to take charge of managing their own day-to-day schedules, affording a sense of autonomy many employees value highly. And they also help companies avoid issues with employee burnout that can stem from the feeling of being surveilled or mistrusted by leaders.

Consider generational and gender differences in burnout Amongst your employees, different generations are likely to be experiencing burnout and the transition to remote––and now hybrid––work in different ways. Gen Z, for example, has reported higher feelings of isolation and lack of motivation in the past year, perhaps due to being less established in their careers and not yet having the opportunity to develop robust relationships with their colleagues. Human resources professionals should keep these nuances in mind when considering how to foster belonging under a hybrid model.

Along with generational differences, studies show that different genders also experience burnout differently. In one survey, women reported burnout 16 points higher than men, and data shows that more women than men exited the workforce during the pandemic. One reason could be the fact that women are still more likely than their male counterparts to be responsible for household tasks and chores, meaning that for many women, working from home may feel like being called on to perform two jobs simultaneously.

Nevertheless, when given the option, women are also more likely than men to choose to work from home. Any hybrid policy must take into account these differences in who opts to stay home and how often––especially given that some studies indicate workers who spend more time in the office are more likely to be promoted.

One thing is clear: not all groups will experience hybrid work the same way. Any hybrid work plan must take these differences into account. Moving forward, a truly effective hybrid work model will not only help employees avoid burnout, but will also address issues of parity and inclusivity. Human resources leaders who are mindful of both the day-to-day experiences of employees and hybrid work’s long-term implications for their wellbeing and careers will set their employees up for success––and ensure their organizations make the most of this new hybrid world.

*

Looking for more guidance on hybrid work and burnout and a deeper dive into the role of HR in the transition to hybrid work? Check out Hybrid Working, the world’s first hybrid working program. Created by Nomadic and Charter for the Josh Bersin Academy, Hybrid Working brings together the world’s leading practitioners, researchers, and experts on hybrid work to help human resources professionals navigate this massive workplace transformation. It answers today’s top hybrid work questions, providing a path toward a new way of working that’s creative, connected, and deeply human.

*

Frequently Asked Questions: Employee Burnout

What is employee burnout? Employee burnout isn’t a medical diagnosis. But it is a real condition, with serious effects on physical and mental health. The World Health Organization defines burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” and says it has three defining components: feelings of energy depletion, increased negativity about one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy.

What are the signs of employee burnout? Signs of employee burnout include cynicism and irritability at work, having trouble getting started each day, lack of energy, inability to focus, difficulty concentrating, and feeling less satisfied about one’s accomplishments. Other signs can also include using food, drugs, or alcohol as a coping mechanism; a change in sleep habits; and unexplained headaches, stomach problems, or other physical symptoms.

What are some of the effects of employee burnout? The effects of employee burnout are drastic. They can include reduced productivity, absenteeism, higher accident rates, problems with retention, and a significant toll to employees’ health and wellbeing.

What factors can worsen employee burnout? According to the WHO, employee burnout comes from chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been managed successfully. Factors such as lack of control over one’s work, unclear job expectations, dysfunctional team dynamics, and isolation at work can worsen employee burnout.

How do companies prevent employee burnout? One of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce employee burnout is to simply encourage employees to take vacations and other time off. Other measures include increasing employees’ role in decision making, reviewing the concordance between workers’ skills and job responsibilities, and taking steps to improve employee wellbeing overall.

How does remote or hybrid work affect employee burnout? With the average workday increasing in length during the pandemic, and workers being called upon to manage job and at-home responsibilities simultaneously, studies have shown the switch to remote work has increased rates of employee burnout. Other factors associated with remote work, such as social isolation and feeling of always being “on,” may have augmented this problem, too. Hybrid work offers a chance to rethink this balance of at-home and in-office work in a way that could mitigate some of the issues with a fully remote model––if done strategically and with an eye toward fostering a positive work culture and supporting employee wellbeing.

*

Want to learn more about hybrid work and its effects on employee engagement, workplace culture, and more? Check out our new Program, Hybrid Working. When it comes to hybrid work, there are no one-size-fits-all answers. But there are research-based best practices and experience-informed strategies for ensuring that organizations and employees reap both the benefits of working remotely and the strengths of traditional co-located work. And strategies to help human resources use hybrid work strategically to encourage employee wellness, productivity, equity, and beyond.