Eighty per cent of HR say hybrid work is emotionally draining for their people


Hybrid work is more draining than a remote or face-to-face arrangement, research finds. Why is the ‘hybrid headache’ so widely felt, and what can you do about it?

When hybrid work first arrived on the scene, it was hailed as offering the best of both worlds. Employees could focus on individual-oriented tasks at home and benefit from the collaboration and social interaction that comes from being in the workplace.

But new research suggests that we might’ve been too quick to appoint the hybrid model as the Holy Grail of all working styles. Employees and employers alike are reporting that being in a constant split state between home and work can be cognitively draining.

And the downsides of hybrid work don’t end there.

Drained from hybrid work?

More than 80 per cent of HR leaders report that hybrid work is emotionally exhausting for employees, according to research by US employee feedback software company TINYPulse by Limeade. The finding was confirmed by 72 per cent of employees who said they found hybrid work emotionally taxing.

This is compared to 57 per cent of employees who said being fully in-person was emotionally and physically exhausting, and 37 per cent of remote workers who said the same.

Regularly changing between the physical workspace and the home can unsettle employees – particularly those who rely on a predictable schedule to feel grounded. During a stressful period, a routine can be an anchor.

Neal Woolrich, Director HR Advisory at Gartner, says hybrid work can disrupt the rhythm of the work week.

“When you make the switch to hybrid and come into the office less frequently, you’re having to be more deliberate about the decisions you’re making and ask yourself: ‘What do I need to take into the office? What are the things I need to do to prepare for the day?’” he says.

“That can be unsettling for people as you need to expend more mental energy.”

Woman sits at desk and raises one hand to her forehead to represent the challenges of hybrid work.

Photo: Marcus Aurelius from Pexels

Dr Elora Voyles, People Scientist at TINYpulse by Limeade, who co-authored the employee sentiment research, says the stressors of hybrid work are enhanced when managers dictate the schedule, rather than granting employees flexibility to decide for themselves.

“This takes away their autonomy. Employees might feel they’re being told how to arrange their lives.”

On the flip side, employees may struggle to adjust their schedule when a hybrid working model is in place.

“Employees might feel uncertain about what their day-to-day schedule might look like… I think it’s because managers and employees are still figuring out hybrid work and it hasn’t had a lot of policy around it. There hasn’t been a lot of planning. It’s truly trial and error with hybrid work for organisations that are new to it.”

Trust drops under hybrid work

Gartner recently found that 41 per cent of employees working in a hybrid arrangement had lower trust in their team members. Thirty seven per cent of employees said their trust in leaders had declined over the course of the pandemic.

Although these findings didn’t explore employees’ challenges of a hybrid model specifically, Woolrich suspects the ‘hybrid headache’ could feed into this finding.

“When employees don’t have day-to-day direct contact with their managers, companies need to carefully manage this in order to restore, maintain and improve trust.”

The primary factors contributing to a disintegration of trust are overwork and a lack of fairness, says Woolrich. This is going to be particularly evident in the current climate since we know rates of overwork have skyrocketed during the pandemic.

“In a hybrid environment where employers don’t have the same visibility, people’s hard work can sometimes go unrecognised… But first and foremost, you need to make sure that people aren’t overworking in order to keep trust levels high.”

“Once you add autonomy onto employees who are already stressed, it can decrease engagement and dampen productivity.” – Neal Woolrich, Director HR Advisory, Gartner

Interestingly, another factor causing fraying trust levels is granting employees autonomy that they’re not ready for, says Woolrich.

Early in the pandemic, a lot of organisations were giving people more autonomy, but this wasn’t always a good thing.

“We found, a year or so into the pandemic, that although employees generally like autonomy, they don’t like it when they’re under stress or when autonomy is a skill they’ve not practiced,” says Woolrich. 

“Generally speaking, stressed employees don’t want more decision-making authority.  It can decrease engagement and dampen productivity.”

Managers who are attuned to their employees’ behaviours can make a significant difference, and help to tackle the issues that can arise from a hybrid arrangement.

“Leaders should be able to sense when someone is at risk of burning out because the employee might be skipping meals, working out of hours or seem less talkative in meetings,” says Woolrich.

“Managers can build up their trust and credibility by being a sensing mechanism for employees. They need to step in when they think an employee is at risk of burning out.”

He adds that trust is an essential ingredient in coping with the disruption of hybrid work, as Gartner research shows the teams that are best able to cope with change are those with high levels of trust and cohesion.


Learn more about the psychological aspects of managing a hybrid work culture with this short course from AHRI. Enquire here to have a course tailored to your organisation’s unique needs.


Loyalty wanes

In some circumstances remote work can weaken the connection that employees feel to their workplace, putting loyalty under threat.

A recent study in Finland found a negative correlation between trust levels and remote work. When cues such as in-person support and socialising were removed, the researchers found that people were less likely to trust each other.

While the effects might not be as drastic in a hybrid setting, the sense of disconnection is still likely to have an impact.

“Organisations need to be intentional about how they’re setting up workflows and getting people to collaborate. When you ask people to come into the office, make sure you’re doing it in a meaningful way, and not just dragging them in to meet a certain percentage of time spent in the office,” says Woolrich. 

“When employees have a schedule they have some control over, that can alleviate some of that jarring nature of trading between work and home.” – Dr Elora Voyles, People Scientist, TINYPulse by Limeade

On the other hand, the TINYPulse by Limeade research also revealed that employees who work a combination of home and office-based days are equally committed to their organisation as employees who work purely remote or face-to-face. 

“Those who have a hybrid mix report enjoying the flexibility and the ability to manage their other responsibilities when they’re working from home,” says Voyles.

That suggests that hybrid work, when set up correctly, could improve loyalty if it enables employees to better manage their personal and professional commitments. 

What’s next for hybrid work?

Drawing on your team’s input to build a solution is one effective way of responding to hybrid work challenges.

“Get employees involved in co-creating what that change management process looks like,” says Woolrich. “It might be establishing a do’s and don’ts checklist covering how the team is going to manage hybrid work.”

Voyles agrees, saying, “Employees may not always be willing to share their complaints with managers, but an anonymous survey allows managers to get that information without employees feeling put on the spot or judged.

“Survey your employees to understand what core hours or days work best for them to be in the office. Once those times are set, employees would need to come into the office at those times, but they’d have the freedom to work in the office or remotely during other times.

“When employees have a schedule they have some control over, that can alleviate some of that jarring nature of trading between work and home.”

It’s also important to consider that hybrid work is still relatively new on the scene. Organisations are now ironing out the wrinkles, and the process will require tweaking.

“By discovering what works and what doesn’t, we can unleash the benefits of hybrid work,” says Voyles “It’s just going to take some time to learn how to do it well.”

A version of this article was first published in the May 2022 edition of HRM magazine.

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Eighty per cent of HR say hybrid work is emotionally draining for their people


Hybrid work is more draining than a remote or face-to-face arrangement, research finds. Why is the ‘hybrid headache’ so widely felt, and what can you do about it?

When hybrid work first arrived on the scene, it was hailed as offering the best of both worlds. Employees could focus on individual-oriented tasks at home and benefit from the collaboration and social interaction that comes from being in the workplace.

But new research suggests that we might’ve been too quick to appoint the hybrid model as the Holy Grail of all working styles. Employees and employers alike are reporting that being in a constant split state between home and work can be cognitively draining.

And the downsides of hybrid work don’t end there.

Drained from hybrid work?

More than 80 per cent of HR leaders report that hybrid work is emotionally exhausting for employees, according to research by US employee feedback software company TINYPulse by Limeade. The finding was confirmed by 72 per cent of employees who said they found hybrid work emotionally taxing.

This is compared to 57 per cent of employees who said being fully in-person was emotionally and physically exhausting, and 37 per cent of remote workers who said the same.

Regularly changing between the physical workspace and the home can unsettle employees – particularly those who rely on a predictable schedule to feel grounded. During a stressful period, a routine can be an anchor.

Neal Woolrich, Director HR Advisory at Gartner, says hybrid work can disrupt the rhythm of the work week.

“When you make the switch to hybrid and come into the office less frequently, you’re having to be more deliberate about the decisions you’re making and ask yourself: ‘What do I need to take into the office? What are the things I need to do to prepare for the day?’” he says.

“That can be unsettling for people as you need to expend more mental energy.”

Woman sits at desk and raises one hand to her forehead to represent the challenges of hybrid work.

Photo: Marcus Aurelius from Pexels

Dr Elora Voyles, People Scientist at TINYpulse by Limeade, who co-authored the employee sentiment research, says the stressors of hybrid work are enhanced when managers dictate the schedule, rather than granting employees flexibility to decide for themselves.

“This takes away their autonomy. Employees might feel they’re being told how to arrange their lives.”

On the flip side, employees may struggle to adjust their schedule when a hybrid working model is in place.

“Employees might feel uncertain about what their day-to-day schedule might look like… I think it’s because managers and employees are still figuring out hybrid work and it hasn’t had a lot of policy around it. There hasn’t been a lot of planning. It’s truly trial and error with hybrid work for organisations that are new to it.”

Trust drops under hybrid work

Gartner recently found that 41 per cent of employees working in a hybrid arrangement had lower trust in their team members. Thirty seven per cent of employees said their trust in leaders had declined over the course of the pandemic.

Although these findings didn’t explore employees’ challenges of a hybrid model specifically, Woolrich suspects the ‘hybrid headache’ could feed into this finding.

“When employees don’t have day-to-day direct contact with their managers, companies need to carefully manage this in order to restore, maintain and improve trust.”

The primary factors contributing to a disintegration of trust are overwork and a lack of fairness, says Woolrich. This is going to be particularly evident in the current climate since we know rates of overwork have skyrocketed during the pandemic.

“In a hybrid environment where employers don’t have the same visibility, people’s hard work can sometimes go unrecognised… But first and foremost, you need to make sure that people aren’t overworking in order to keep trust levels high.”

“Once you add autonomy onto employees who are already stressed, it can decrease engagement and dampen productivity.” – Neal Woolrich, Director HR Advisory, Gartner

Interestingly, another factor causing fraying trust levels is granting employees autonomy that they’re not ready for, says Woolrich.

Early in the pandemic, a lot of organisations were giving people more autonomy, but this wasn’t always a good thing.

“We found, a year or so into the pandemic, that although employees generally like autonomy, they don’t like it when they’re under stress or when autonomy is a skill they’ve not practiced,” says Woolrich. 

“Generally speaking, stressed employees don’t want more decision-making authority.  It can decrease engagement and dampen productivity.”

Managers who are attuned to their employees’ behaviours can make a significant difference, and help to tackle the issues that can arise from a hybrid arrangement.

“Leaders should be able to sense when someone is at risk of burning out because the employee might be skipping meals, working out of hours or seem less talkative in meetings,” says Woolrich.

“Managers can build up their trust and credibility by being a sensing mechanism for employees. They need to step in when they think an employee is at risk of burning out.”

He adds that trust is an essential ingredient in coping with the disruption of hybrid work, as Gartner research shows the teams that are best able to cope with change are those with high levels of trust and cohesion.


Learn more about the psychological aspects of managing a hybrid work culture with this short course from AHRI. Enquire here to have a course tailored to your organisation’s unique needs.


Loyalty wanes

In some circumstances remote work can weaken the connection that employees feel to their workplace, putting loyalty under threat.

A recent study in Finland found a negative correlation between trust levels and remote work. When cues such as in-person support and socialising were removed, the researchers found that people were less likely to trust each other.

While the effects might not be as drastic in a hybrid setting, the sense of disconnection is still likely to have an impact.

“Organisations need to be intentional about how they’re setting up workflows and getting people to collaborate. When you ask people to come into the office, make sure you’re doing it in a meaningful way, and not just dragging them in to meet a certain percentage of time spent in the office,” says Woolrich. 

“When employees have a schedule they have some control over, that can alleviate some of that jarring nature of trading between work and home.” – Dr Elora Voyles, People Scientist, TINYPulse by Limeade

On the other hand, the TINYPulse by Limeade research also revealed that employees who work a combination of home and office-based days are equally committed to their organisation as employees who work purely remote or face-to-face. 

“Those who have a hybrid mix report enjoying the flexibility and the ability to manage their other responsibilities when they’re working from home,” says Voyles.

That suggests that hybrid work, when set up correctly, could improve loyalty if it enables employees to better manage their personal and professional commitments. 

What’s next for hybrid work?

Drawing on your team’s input to build a solution is one effective way of responding to hybrid work challenges.

“Get employees involved in co-creating what that change management process looks like,” says Woolrich. “It might be establishing a do’s and don’ts checklist covering how the team is going to manage hybrid work.”

Voyles agrees, saying, “Employees may not always be willing to share their complaints with managers, but an anonymous survey allows managers to get that information without employees feeling put on the spot or judged.

“Survey your employees to understand what core hours or days work best for them to be in the office. Once those times are set, employees would need to come into the office at those times, but they’d have the freedom to work in the office or remotely during other times.

“When employees have a schedule they have some control over, that can alleviate some of that jarring nature of trading between work and home.”

It’s also important to consider that hybrid work is still relatively new on the scene. Organisations are now ironing out the wrinkles, and the process will require tweaking.

“By discovering what works and what doesn’t, we can unleash the benefits of hybrid work,” says Voyles “It’s just going to take some time to learn how to do it well.”

A version of this article was first published in the May 2022 edition of HRM magazine.

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