Remote work isn’t hurting our mental well-being. The lack of work-life boundaries is

Remote and hybrid working is bad for employees’ mental well-being and leads to a sense of social isolation, meaninglessness and a lack of work-life boundaries, so we should all get back to work-focused work the office, or so say many traditionalists. business gurus

There is a “basic psychological truth, which is that we want you to have a sense of belonging and to feel needed… I know it’s a hassle to walk into the office, but if you’re sitting in your pajamas in your bedroom, it’s the working life you want to live?” said Malcolm Gladwell.

These office-centric traditionalists refer to a number of prominent articles on the dangers of remote work to mental well-being.

The problem with these claims is that they are misleading: they report the negative impact of remote and hybrid work on well-being, but ignore the damage to well-being caused by the alternative, namely office-based work.

People would feel less isolated if they could hang out and have a beer with their friends instead of working. They could take care of their existing mental health problems if they could see a therapist. But that’s not in the cards. What’s on the cards is office-centric work. That means the frustration of a long commute to the office, sitting at your desk in an often uncomfortable and oppressive open office for eight hours, having a sad desk lunch and unhealthy snacks, and then even more frustration to get back at home.

So what happens when we compare apples to apples? That’s when we need to hear from the horse’s mouth: that is, surveys of employees themselves, who experienced both office work before the pandemic and hybrid and remote work after COVID-19.

Consider a 2022 Cisco survey of 28,000 full-time employees worldwide. The majority of respondents (78%) said remote and hybrid work improved their overall well-being. Of the small number who reported that their work-life balance had not improved or even gotten worse, the number one reason cited by more than two-thirds of respondents is “difficulty disconnecting from work.”

Much of this improvement came from time savings from not having to commute and having a more flexible schedule: 64% saved at least four hours per week and 26% saved eight hours or more. What did they do with that extension? The top choice of 44% was spending more time with family, friends and pets, which certainly helped solve the problem of workplace isolation. For 20%, the best option for investing this extra time was in self-care. In fact, 74% said working from home improved their family relationships and 51% said it strengthened their friendships. 82% say the ability to work from anywhere has made them happier, and 55% say this job reduced their stress levels.

Other surveys support Cisco’s findings. For example, a 2022 Future Forum survey compared knowledge workers who worked full-time in the office, in a hybrid and fully remote mode. It found that full-time office workers were least satisfied with their work-life balance, hybrid workers were in the middle, and fully remote workers were most satisfied. The same distribution applies to questions about stress and/or anxiety. A mental health website called Tracking Happiness found in a 2022 survey of more than 12,000 workers that fully remote employees report about 20% higher levels of happiness than office-based ones.

What about the alleged burnout crisis associated with remote work?

It is a fallacy. Burnout has been on the rise even before the widespread adoption of remote work. A 2018 Deloitte survey found that 77% of workers experienced burnout. Gallup got a slightly lower number of 67% in its poll.

By contrast, an April 2021 McKinsey survey found that 54 percent of Americans and 49 percent of those worldwide reported feeling burned out. A September 2021 survey by The Hartford reported 61% attrition. Since we had much more fully remote or hybrid work at the height of the pandemic, full-time or part-time remote opportunities decreased burnout rather than increased it. Indeed, this finding aligns with previous surveys and peer-reviewed research suggesting that remote and hybrid work improves well-being.

In a late 2022 Gallup poll, 71% of respondents said that compared to working in the office, hybrid work improves work-life balance, and 58% reported less burnout. When asked about burnout among workers who could work fully remotely, those who were fully focused in the office had burnout rates of 35% and engagement rates of 30%. In contrast, 37% of hybrid workers were engaged and 30% burned out. For remote workers, the engagement rate was 37% and burnout was 27%, further debunking the remote work burnout myth.

Still, while generally better for well-being, remote and hybrid work has specific disadvantages in terms of the separation of work and family life. To address work-life issues, I advise clients I’ve helped transition to hybrid and remote work to establish rules and policies that focus on clear expectations and setting boundaries.

Some people expect their Slack or Microsoft Teams messages to be answered within an hour, while others check Slack once a day. Some believe that email requires a response within three hours, and others believe that three days is fine.

As a result of this uncertainty and lack of clarity about what is appropriate, too many people feel uncomfortable unplugging. They answer messages or do work tasks after hours. This may stem from the fear of not meeting your boss’s expectations or not wanting to let your colleagues down.

To solve this problem, companies need to set and incentivize clear expectations and boundaries. Develop policies and rules about response times for different communication channels and clarify the boundaries between work life and the work life of your employees.

Establishing work-life boundaries does not mean that employees should never work outside of normal business hours. However, if this overtime work is systematically done more frequently outside of emergency situations, there is a problem that needs to be solved.

Also, for working from home and collaborating with others, there is an unhealthy expectation that once you start your workday in your home office chair, you will work continuously while sitting there (except for lunch break). That’s not how things work in a brick-and-mortar office, which has built-in breaks throughout the day. You took 5-10 minutes to walk from one meeting to another or you went to get your copies from the printer and chatted with a co-worker on the way.

Research shows that physical and mental breaks reduce burnout, improve productivity, and reduce errors. That’s why companies should encourage employees to take at least a 10-minute break every hour during remote work. At least half of these breaks should involve physical activity, such as lying down or walking, to counteract the dangerous effects of prolonged sitting. Other breaks should be restful mental activities such as meditation, short naps, or anything else that feels restful.

To facilitate these breaks, my clients, such as the University of Southern California’s Institute for Information Sciences, shortened meetings from an hour to 50 minutes and from half an hour to 25 minutes, to provide everyone a mental and physical rest and a time of transition.

You can do the vast majority of what you normally do in a one-hour meeting in 50 minutes. Just remember to start closing after 40 minutes and after 20 minutes for meetings lasting 25 minutes. Very few people will resist having shorter meetings.

After that works, move on to other aspects of setting boundaries and expectations that facilitate work-life balance. To do this, you will need to help team members get on the same page and reduce conflicts and tensions.

By setting clear expectations and boundaries, you’ll address the biggest wellness challenge for remote and hybrid workers: work-life boundaries. On the other issues, the research clearly shows that hybrid and remote workers generally have better well-being and lower burnout than office-based workers in the same roles.

Gleb Tsipursky, PhD, helps executives drive collaboration, innovation and retention in hybrid work. He serves as CEO of boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts. He is the best-selling author of 7 books, incl Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make Better Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters i Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Handbook on Benchmarking Best Practices for Competitive Advantage. His experience comes from more than 20 years of consulting for Fortune 500 companies, from Aflac to Xerox, and more than 15 years in academia as a behavioral scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill and Ohio State.

Opinions expressed in comments are solely the opinions of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of the fortune.

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