Supporting employees returning to the hybrid workplace

Hybrid Burnout
© Ferli Achirulli Kamaruddin

Brendan Street, Head of Charity, Nuffield Health, ponders the latest workplace epidemic ‘Hybrid Burnout’ and how to help staff manage the psychological stress of balancing home and office working

As restrictions ease and many of us return to the office, the workplace looks a little different. The success of enforced remote working over the pandemic has seen many businesses now adopting a hybrid approach.

While this provides benefits in a potentially greater work-life balance, it also brings new challenges.

For those used to full-time office and remote working, balancing the two is proving stressful. And without the right support, employees are at risk of burning out.

What is hybrid burnout?

Both on-site and remote working prove uniquely stressful. Office work often means exhausting commutes and the social stresses of a busy environment, while remote working can encourage an unhealthy ‘always-on’ culture.

However, juggling the two is leaving many with a ‘hybrid headache’, simultaneously enduring the stresses of both approaches as well as the disrupted routine of splitting time between the office and home.

As a result, individuals are burning out – a phenomenon now recognised by the WHO as the result of ‘chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’.

Those unable to nurture healthy hybrid habits are left in a constant heightened state of stress, impacting their physical and mental wellbeing. When we’re unable to switch off from ‘fight or flight’ mode, we experience physical symptoms including nausea, fatigue and musculoskeletal problems, as well as mental ill-health including anxiety and depression.

For these individuals, it’s a cyclical and unhelpful pattern.

Ill health negatively impacts work performance and productivity, which in turn leads to further stress and, often, overworking. This can also drive unhelpful behaviours like ‘leavism’ and ‘presenteeism’, which only add fuel to the fire and prevent individuals from making positive changes.

Without the right support and guidance from employers, individuals may continue this spiral of negative behaviours, exacerbating symptoms of stress and leading to negative outcomes for both the individual and the business.

Noticing the signs

Burnt out employees are often reluctant to speak about their situation. In addition to the perceived stigma around mental health, employees may also fear the career consequences of struggling with work stress, like being overlooked for promotions.

To nurture a healthy and productive workforce, managers must be able to recognise the signs of burnout in others – as well as themselves – and feel confident approaching them and offering support.

Stress is common in the workplace and isn’t always unhealthy. In short bursts, stress helps us concentrate and perform under pressure. However, the long-term impact of stress can have a noticeable impact on burnt out employees.

This may include a measurable decline in their standard of work, as well as changes to their behaviour, such as irritability, low mood, tiredness and an inability to concentrate.

Those who notice these symptoms in colleagues should feel comfortable supporting them, from simply asking ‘how are you feeling today?’ or ‘is there anything I can do to help?’, to signposting them towards more formal support.

Nuffield Health, have offered Emotional Literacy Training to all staff, equipping them with the skills to hold conversations confidently around mental health and giving them a common language to discuss their feelings.

This training builds a positive culture around mental health, where conversations are welcome and expected. Not only are individuals capable of supporting others but they are more likely to seek support for themselves at the earliest signs of struggle – before they become burnt out.

Relieving the hybrid headache

Business leaders looking to support their team in the hybrid working world must understand the stresses posed and help to alleviate them.

For example, remote working can cause ‘working from home guilt’, with employees increasing their working hours to compensate for the benefit of home working.

Individuals feel they are expected to be ‘always on’, and as a result, work additional hours and feel inclined to check their emails into the evening. This is also associated with unhealthy behaviours including ‘bedmin’ – where employees take their devices to bed with them and work until they fall asleep.

It’s a negative cycle, with poor and disrupted sleep impacting work performance, which in turn leads to additional stress and overworking.

Creativity and productivity will start to reduce in these situations.

The Pareto Principle states that 80% of your results at work come from 20% of your effort. It is often those neglected important/non-urgent items, the ‘vital few’, that drive productivity and creativity.

Managers should outline remote working expectations clearly to ease these worries, like letting individuals know they aren’t expected to work longer hours just because they’re not commuting.

Similarly, as people adopt flexible working patterns that suit them – for example, working into the evening to accommodate the morning school run – employees may worry about the need to be ‘always-on’. Team leaders should reiterate that employees shouldn’t feel pressured to reply to emails out of hours and encourage them to switch devices off after work.

Embracing a routine can reduce unhelpful ‘what if?’ thinking patterns, too. While flexibility is one of the benefits of a hybrid working approach, this doesn’t have to mean inconsistent working.

Nominating ‘office days’ helps employees manage their expectations for the week ahead, while still providing the benefits associated with a more flexible approach. This will also give time for reflection, that in turn can help us to plan more proactive thinking time for important/non-urgent work activities.

Employers should also signpost individuals towards the emotional wellbeing support available to them. This may include Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) or cognitive behaviour therapy sessions (CBT), which give individuals direct access to a specialist who can help them understand and break unhelpful thinking patterns, reframe unhelpful thoughts and cope in new and uncertain situations.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here