Special Reports

Workers Want Hybrid But Say It's Exhausting Them. Here's How Companies Can Fix That

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  • More than 80% of human resources executives say that hybrid is proving to be exhausting for employees, according to a TinyPulse survey report.
  • Workers said hybrid is more emotionally draining than fully remote and more taxing than full-time, office-based work.
  • Companies can help ease the stress by not dictating a hybrid schedule, but rather let employees and managers work it out together.

The hybrid work arrangements that employees say they want — and employers are increasingly offering — are turning out to be harder to manage emotionally than first thought.

The surveys are clear: most employees who are not required to be in person for their job want their work week to be a blend between remote and being in the office.

A growing number of companies are now offering just that arrangement. LinkedIn's Global Talent Trends 2022 report shows that of more than 500 C-level executives surveyed, 81% said they're changing their workplace policies to offer greater flexibility.

But emerging data is beginning to show that hybrid work can be exhausting, leading to the very problem workers thought it could solve: burnout.

More than 80% of human resources executives report that hybrid is proving to be exhausting for employees, according to a global study by employee engagement platform TinyPulse. Workers also reported that hybrid was more emotionally draining than fully remote and more taxing than even full-time office-based work.

"Overall, human resources executives thought that hybrid and remote work were the most emotionally exhausting for employees, but that wasn't the case," says Elora Voyles, a people scientist at TinyPulse.

The best of both worlds

In theory, a hybrid work arrangement offers the best of both worlds for employers and employees. It blends pre-pandemic patterns of office-based work with remote in a way that enables in-person collaboration and the flexibility and greater focus of working from home, or anywhere, something individuals say they don't want to give up.

In Gallup's 2021 State of the Workforce study, 91% of employees who work remotely at least part of the time are hoping to continue doing so after the pandemic.

So why the claims of exhaustion? Voyles says it centers on uncertainty and lack of control. "Some employees moved to hybrid only to have to go back to remote as new variants emerged, and that speaks to the uncertainty," she says.

The lack of control comes in the form of companies claiming to offer flexibility only to then dictate, in many cases, which or how many days or which hours employees must be present.

"Hybrid requires frequent changes to daily habits," Voyles says. "One day a worker is in the office, and then the next they're working from home and there's no consistency or rhythm to their week. When a company tells you which days to do that, all the back and forth can be exhausting."

In many cases, there's added confusion over who's supposed to be making all these decisions. "Is it human resources, the manager, or the individual employee?" she says. "These are questions that cause employees to feel a lack of control because the outcome is being decided for them."

Some employees are taking the control back by looking for jobs that offer them the opportunity to be fully remote.

Teresa Carlson, president and chief growth officer at data platform company Splunk, says it offers employees full flexibility with their schedules. "Our offices are open but we don't tell people which days to go in or how many days, for that matter," she says.

A big part of the decision to offer that arrangement stems from the fierce competition for talent, especially in the tech sector, she adds. "A lot of the folks I speak to at other tech companies are following what we're doing because that's what employees want," she says. "We're all looking to hire the best people and that means we have to do so many different things to keep them happy."

Many studies, and company leaders themselves, acknowledge that hybrid is here to stay, but Voyles argues that it needs to be refined in order to be sustainable in a healthy way.

"The arrangement goes wrong when a manager or supervisor is dictating the hybrid schedule," she says. "Better communication between employees and managers can solve a lot of this so that days in the office aren't just a replica of what people can do at home."

Prashanth Chandrasekar, CEO of Stack Overflow, an online developer community, says many of the solutions to hybrid and remote work issues are going to hinge on a new management model. "For decades, we've had a top-down, lots of direction and control type of model when it comes to managing employees," he says. He thinks we're at a turning point because of the pandemic, where leaders are beginning to accept that true flexibility, even in the hybrid model, is the key to empowering — and keeping — employees.

"It doesn't mean not holding workers accountable with goals," he adds. But rather "giving them space and trust to get the job done. You can have a yearly meeting or a quarterly get-together, but asking them to spend one or two hours in a car or subway commuting just to have them in the office a certain number of days a week, just doesn't make sense anymore."

To join the CNBC Workforce Executive Council, apply at cnbccouncils.com/wec.

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