Productivity gains, employee loyalty, increased autonomy, flexibility in the organization of tasks… Hybrid work, which combines office and remote work, has many advantages for companies. Since deconfinement, more and more organizations are deciding to implement this new way of working. However, hybrid working also involves several risks. Risks that can have serious consequences on the health of employees, and that should not be neglected. Let’s go over to the dark side of hybrid work.
1) Physical risks
According to a May 2020 Malakoff Humanis study, 27% of French employees say that the sudden switch to telework caused by the March 2020 lockdown has had a negative impact on their physical health:
- 45% of them say that their work posture has deteriorated.
- 25% are seeing a deterioration in their eating habits.
- 33% mention degraded sleep.
A 2017 Eurofound report already exposed this, establishing that 42% of employees working remotely have sleep problems, compared to only 29% of employees working in an office.
Telecommuting can also increase sedentary time. For Dr. Guy Mouyen, occupational physician for Orange, this would even be the “main risk.” Indeed, hybrid employees spend a large part of their time at home. As a result, if they don’t make the effort to go out regularly and play sports, they move around less on average than employees who commute to the office every day. With an increased risk of weight gain and even obesity.
In addition, the hybrid worker often takes fewer (and often shorter) breaks than his or her co-workers on site, and works longer on average, which can lead to visual fatigue. In the end, according to a 2020 Airtasker study, teleworking employees work 1.4 days more per month than those working in a face-to-face environment.
“The problem with teleworking is that employees don’t disconnect enough from the virtual world. Some don’t necessarily respect breaks, and when they take a break, they often go and look at their cell phone or tablet,” explains Dr. Mihaela Izvoranu, Occupational Physician at Ciamt (Inter-company and Artisanal Center for Occupational Health).
2) Psychological risks
Social isolation is one of the greatest risks hybrid workers face. Indeed, according to a 2019 Buffer report, 19% of employees working remotely report it as their number one problem.
This isolation is not always related to the lack of interaction with colleagues, but rather to the feeling of exclusion that employees may feel. According to a 2020 Igloo study, almost 60% of all teleworkers say they don’t have certain information because it was communicated in person. In addition, 55% report being excluded from meetings because they aren’t physically present.
If the company doesn’t make this effort to be more inclusive, the adoption of a hybrid work mode can thus have a negative impact on employees cohesion and motivation.
According to an Anact survey, 48% of employees felt they worked more than usual during lockdown—a phenomenon of presenteeism confirmed by this Obergo survey, according to which 57% of employees work more when they are teleworking.
Longer working hours can be particularly explained by the reduction in travel time, which tends to be transformed into working time, but also by the increase in remote meetings.
Highly mobile employees also have much higher-than-average stress levels, this Eurofound report found. For example, 41% of them say they are “very stressed,” compared to only 25% of those who do not work remotely. In addition, 42% of teleworkers (at home or on the move) report waking up several times a night (compared to 29% for those who do not telework).
Containment has even intensified this phenomenon. According to the Empreinte Humaine OpinionWay barometer of 2020, 47% of French teleworkers were in psychological distress during the first COVID-19- related confinement.
This observation was confirmed by Brigitte Vaudolon, a psychologist and occupational well-being coach, for whom the health crisis has increased employee anxiety. “During the confinement, all the psychologists I supervised noticed an increase in calls on the hotlines. Many people reported being stressed, having trouble sleeping and disconnecting from their work.”
In the long run, this emotional exhaustion can lead to overwork—even genuine burnout for employees. It’s therefore essential that companies implement initiatives to promote hybrid workers well-being.
Also read: Changing Work Modes: What Role for QWL?
Blurred boundaries between private and professional life
Communication and collaboration tools are increasingly used to facilitate remote teamwork. However, some collaborators may sometimes use them too much, sometimes even for non-work purposes. Indeed, 51% of teleworkers say they are overwhelmed by non-work related messages sent to applications such as Slack or Teams.¹ To avoid this hyperconnection, the company must therefore define rules for using these tools so they don’t encroach on employees’ personal lives.
3) Inadequate work environment and tools
Not all employees are equal in the face of hybrid work. While some work quietly in a large house, others have to work in confined and sometimes noisy spaces. In fact, during the initial confinement from March to May 2020, more than one employee in three worked in an unsuitable work environment.²
“Many teleworkers don’t have the right equipment and the right conditions to work. Some work on an unsuitable sofa or chair—sometimes without so much as a table. As a result, they are poorly positioned in front of the screen, which increases the risk of musculoskeletal disorders, particularly tendinitis and pain in the neck and lumbar region,” emphasizes Dr. Mihaela Izvoranu.
In addition to the work environment, the tools provided are often inadequate. For example, the intranet is used by many companies and is being used by fewer and fewer employees. According to the Igloo 2020 study, this lack of interest for the intranet is due to several factors:
- 47% of employees report that most of their co-workers do not use it.
- 39% say they encounter bugs frequently.
- 38% find the intranet difficult to use.
- 34% think their intranet is obsolete.
Thus, almost 80% of employees would like to completely reorganize their intranet to include solutions that better meet their business needs. A figure that certainly explains why 62% of employees still use email to communicate and share documents.
All is not quite rosy for “hybrid” workers. Although they enjoy greater flexibility than some of their counterparts, they are more exposed to physical and psychological health risks and do not always have the right tools to work remotely. Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent these different risks.
Also read: Tackling the Risks of Hybrid Work
You want to know more about the challenges and best practices of hybrid work? Download our white paper: “The Future of Work: Make Way for Hybrid!”
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¹ “2020 State of the Digital Workplace” Igloo study
² Anact poll from May 2020 on “Constrained telework during lockdown”
Author: Emmanuelle Abensur