How can hybrid working affect employee wellbeing, and what benefits can it offer? Jessica Chauhan looks at what the research shows and discusses whether the costs outweigh the benefits.
Many organisations have had to deal with change, especially during the pandemic. Hybrid working has been one of these major shifts.
Employers had to use remote and hybrid working to ensure the safety of employees and clients while the Covid-19 infection rate was high. But now there is greater demand from employees to choose how and where they work.
Hybrid working may convince employees to stay if they are thinking of new horizions, especially as it can offer a better work-life balance and help improve their mental health.
Benefits of hybrid working
The benefits of hybrid working include cost saving, better employee wellbeing, improvements in presenteeism and leaveism, and better productivity.
The cost savings offered by hybrid working models can come in many forms, including reducing the size of the office as it will be needed by fewer employees at any one time. According to an International Workplace Group study, hybrid working saves £8,100 on average per employee.
Analysis by Capgemini finds that the public sector would enjoy the most savings, up to 52% in some cases. There is also the potental for high savings in retail, with the highest at 50%.
Improved employee wellbeing
Being able to work remotely can reduce stress, due to a better work-life balance. ONS data shows that having a better work-life balance has been the main advantage for hybrid workers, reported by 78%. Hybrid working allows people to fit work around their lifestyle and family commitments, and offers the opportunity to create a more manageable workload, lower levels of employee burnout and reduced presenteeism.
Presenteeism and leaveism
According to the Mind Workplace Wellbeing Index, presenteeism in the private sector is 9% higher than the public and third sectors. The cost of presenteeism to employers in 2021 was estimated at £24-28 billion.
The 2019 Workplace Wellbeing Index suggested that leaveism is more likely among young employees. Eight per cent use annual leave rather than sick days to take time off when they are unwell. A hybrid working model may reduce this.
Employees are carrying out more work at home – and of a better quality. This is possibly due to better workload management as there can be fewer distractions than in the office.
According to research by Accenture, 63% of high growth companies have adopted a ‘productivity anywhere’ workforce model. Accenture surveyed more than 9,000 of employees across the world and 83% said hybrid working would be their optimal style of working. The research found that employees who can work anywhere have better personal and organisational resources (e.g. strong social bonds at work and supportive leadership) which is key to creating a more efficient workforce.
McKinsey & Company research involving 100 executives found a high correlation between individual and team productivity. Executives who reported improvements in individual productivity are five times more likely to report that team productivity has risen too. Employee engagement has improved by 44%, which can lead to higher productivity.
Costs of hybrid working
However, there are some drawbacks of hybrid working for employee wellbeing.
Methods of communication in hybrid workplaces are not always efficient, and employees are prone to isolation due to a lack of collaboration between those in the office and at home.
Methods of communication in hybrid workplaces are not always efficient, and employees are prone to isolation due to a lack of collaboration between those in the office and those at home.”
According to the Royal Society of Public Health, women are more likely to experience mental health issues working from home – 58% of women reported feelings of isolation, compared to 38% of men. These figures alone demonstrate the need for employers to be held accountable for making sure employees, particularly women, get the support they need while working in a hybrid way.
- Set up opportunities for the team to get together. This could include setting a day each week where all employees come in to the office, allowing staff to feel part of a team.
- Host monthly team excursions, which could boost morale.
As there is no need to commute while working from home, employees may end up working longer hours or attending virtual meetings outside of their usual working patterns. This creates a burnout risk.
According to Microsoft, high productivity is masking an exhausted workforce, as the “digital intensity of workers’ days has increased, with the number of meetings and chats rising each year”. In their study from February 2020-21, the time spent on meetings more than doubled globally. They named this the “barrage of communications” due to the lack of scheduling by employers, which inevitably has damaging effects.
This report also found those in ‘Generation Z’, those typically born in the mid- to late- 1990s, are struggling more than previous generations. Sixteen per cent find it more difficult to feel engaged about their work than employees than previous generations.
- Create a mental health strategy, using feedback from employees to prevent further burnout. This should be continuously reviewed to ensure all employees feel as though their voices are heard.
- Implement flexible working. The traditional 9-5 working day works for some employees as it helps to structure their days. However, some employees may not be as productive during these hours. Giving employees flexibility means they work when they feel most productive, preventing presenteeism and promoting a better work-life balance.
Worsening mental health
Working from home may worsen employee mental health. According to the Royal Society of Public Health, 67% of remote employees are less connected to their team, and only 34% have been offered support. From an occupational health perspective, take-up of support is exceptionally low among those who work remotely, so encouraging employees to occasionally visit the office may be the best way to ensure support reaches them.
Working from home may worsen employee mental health. According to the Royal Society of Public Health, 67% of remote employees are less connected to their team.”
According to the CIPD, 63% of employees who could work using a hybrid model during the pandemic were not given the choice of how they would like to work moving forward. Being forced into one style of working may cause mental health to deteriorate.
The CIPD report showed 9% had changed their profession due to the absence of flexible working options within their previous sector. This clearly demonstrates the need for flexible working options, not only to ensure good wellbeing, but to retain talented employees.
The annual costs of employee mental ill-health have increased by 25% since the start of the pandemic, up to £53-56 billion in 2020/21, according to Deloitte. The percentage costs are higher in the private than public sector due to a lack of mental health strategies the private sector offers. Deloitte found that nearly 40% of labour turnover costs are due to mental health issues.
Case study: Google
The CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, has been supportive of the hybrid working model ever since Covid-19 restrictions ended. He has implemented a three days in person, two days remote working approach where possible. Google also has completely remote opportunities.
Google has introduced “work from anywhere” weeks where employees can work from a temporary location other than their main office for four weeks over the summer. This offers staff a better work-life balance and means those with families can look after their children during the school holidays.
It also has ‘reset days’ and ‘focus time’ for employees to recharge, and continuously obtains feedback from employees using a ‘Google Geist’ survey, which measures aspects such as employee satisfaction.
Case study: The Sovini Group
The Sovini Group provides construction, property and facilities management. Half of the group has transitioned into an ‘agile’ model and no longer has a head office. The office-based part of the group now focuses on outputs, rather than how many hours of work they do.
The group had previously trialled agile working before the pandemic. It was found that the main problem was the use of IT to work effectively from home, so the IT team made sure that employees knew how to use the systems over the course of the pandemic.
The firm’s hybrid working model helped employee sickness absence levels decrease from 1.69% to 1.37% in 2020/21, and 96% of employees say the group is a great place to work. This clearly shows that employee wellbeing has risen when adopting the hybrid work model.
Do the costs of hybrid working outweigh the benefits?
The negative aspects of hybrid working models do not seem to outweigh their benefits. Hybrid working helps save costs, improves overall wellbeing, and reduces presenteeism and leaveism.
Women are more likely to experience mental health issues while working from home due to a lack of collaboration. As a result, hybrid working may be the best solution, over a completely remote model. This diminished experience can be due to a lack of training and policies to help prevent isolation. It is up to employers to ensure these are implemented.
Due to differing opportunities for staff in- and out- of the office, there may be inequalities between those who work remotely and in-person. Having a hybrid working model, rather than going fully remote, may provide enough freedom and opportunity.
Employers need to trust their employees to ensure to ensure optimal hybrid working. Their wellbeing must also be closely monitored.
Accenture (2021) ‘The future of Work: a hybrid work model’ https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insights/consulting/future-work
CIPD (2022) ‘Flexible Hybrid Working Case Studies’ https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/relations/flexible-working/flexible-hybrid-working-practices
Confederation of British Industry (2020) ‘No turning back’ https://www.cbi.org.uk/media/5855/no-turning-back.pdf
International Workplace Group (2021) ‘Major Firms embrace Hybrid Working’ https://work.iwgplc.com/MediaCentre/Article/major-firms-embrace-hybrid-working
Microsoft (2021) ‘Work Trend Index Report 2021’ https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/worklab/work-trend-index/hybrid-work
Mind (2019) ‘The Workplace Index 2019’ https://www.mind.org.uk/media-a/5990/mind-index-insight-report-2019.pdf
ONS (2022) ‘Is Hybrid Working here to stay?’ https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/articles/ishybridworkingheretostay/2022-05-23
Royal Society for Public Health (n.d), ‘Disparity begins at home: How home working is impacting the public’s health’ https://www.rsph.org.uk/our-work/policy/wellbeing/disparity-begins-at-home.html