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Does Your Hybrid Culture Really Work for Everyone?

Does Your Hybrid Culture Really Work for Everyone?

by Kristen Lipton

Story Highlights

  • Hybrid workers are more engaged than on-site workers, but could face other risks
  • Employee development is limited for remote workers, and effects for women are worse
  • For hybrid to work long term, organizations need to consider risks and benefits

Most companies are embracing some model of hybrid work, and for good reason -- employees want flexibility and are willing to leave their company for it. However, when companies offer flexible work in any capacity, it’s important leaders and employees are prepared to accept the benefits, challenges and risks it presents.

Ultimately, the goal should be to make hybrid flexibility work for organizations and the employees who use it at no cost to workplace culture or productivity. To achieve this, leaders must challenge the way things have always been done, ask hard questions and be intentional about establishing accountability so every employee is on a level playing field.


Why Hybrid Has Staying Power

The data couldn’t be more clear: The majority of remote-capable employees are hybrid now and want to stay that way. Employers largely indicate they intend to continue offering hybrid arrangements going forward to the benefit of organizations and employees.

From an employer’s standpoint, offering some degree of remote work flexibility has translated to better employee retention, larger talent pools and reduced office costs. Even more importantly, hybrid and remote employees are more engaged than on-site workers, directly benefiting organizational performance (e.g., productivity, profitability, safety and customer service). These workers also experience less burnout.

Hybrid workers cite better work-life balance among other practical benefits, like more efficient use of time -- no surprises here. Less time spent on that dreaded commute means less burnout or fatigue at work and higher productivity.

Hybrid workers have been consistently more engaged than on-site workers since 2019, which might be due to experiencing the best of both worlds -- the ability to focus and do deep thinking at home without interruption paired with the ability to collaborate when on-site and get the boost that comes from proximity to coworkers.

The data couldn’t be more clear: The majority of remote-capable employees are hybrid now and want to stay that way.

Ideally, hybrid work allows people more flexibility to juggle work life and home life. It gives employees the chance to attend to their lives outside of work (e.g., kids, dogs, laundry, spouse, fitness) while advancing in their career. But with these substantial benefits, we’re just starting to understand that hybrid work can present unseen challenges and unintended consequences in the long term.

The Challenges and Risks Hybrid Presents

Always on. Though they experience less burnout at work, hybrid and remote workers are generally just as stressed in their overall daily life as on-site workers. While some pressures specific to on-site work diminish in a hybrid work environment, others replace them -- being distanced from their manager and coworkers adds productivity and responsiveness pressure to hybrid and remote workers. We’ve all been there: What will they think if I’m not online right now? Taking important calls from the preschool parking lot sounds efficient at first blush, but those of us who have struggled to keep a stable connection in that parking lot (let alone offer an insightful comment) know the toll it took on our family, too.

The top challenges for hybrid workers include less access to resources and equipment (like a quiet office and stable internet connection), decreased collaboration with their team, reduced cross-functional communication and feeling less connected to their organization’s culture.


An important nuance: Hybrid workers feel much more strongly about the benefits of hybrid than they do the risks. Between 17% and 31% of hybrid workers name these top challenges when asked, but twice as many cite the top benefits. This is likely because the risk of facing these challenges is lower when people use a moderate amount of remote flexibility -- and even lower still with “light levels of hybrid” (working on-site three to four days each week). In contrast, the challenges become more pronounced for workers the more often they work remotely -- fully remote workers are at greatest risk.

For example, exclusively remote workers’ connection to the mission or purpose of their organization is much lower than that of fully on-site and hybrid workers. In fact, it’s now tied with an all-time low. This doesn’t mean “heavy hybrid work” (one to two days on-site each week) or fully remote work can’t be effective. Rather, the finding highlights that some things are simply more challenging when employees are working remotely -- getting them right requires more effort.

Additionally, a casualty of not being on-site that employees typically overlook is their own professional development. Employee development has long been hard for organizations to get right, and it’s now even more difficult to deliver when people work from home. Most managers lack formal training on how to manage hybrid teams, and most employees aren’t trained on how to make the most of hybrid -- yet eight in 10 hybrid employees are not concerned that being a hybrid worker will affect their opportunities for advancement.

A working paper from economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the University of Virginia and Harvard University1 is among the first major studies to document the professional downside of remote work, citing that the improved productivity seen with remote work comes at the cost of early-career development. Gallup’s findings echo this concern -- younger employees who join organizations in a hybrid or remote capacity struggle with onboarding and development.

A casualty of not being on-site that employees typically overlook is their own professional development. Employee development has long been hard for organizations to get right, and it’s now even more difficult to deliver when people work from home.

Is employees’ trust that organizations will offer equitable opportunities no matter where they work misplaced? Time will tell. Leaders can certainly do their part by refreshing policies and offering inclusive training to ensure that choosing to work flexibly doesn’t limit opportunities for development and advancement.

The Paradox Hybrid Work Presents for Women

The benefits and risks of hybrid work might become even more pronounced for women. Because women want and use flex policies more than men do, they are subject to the opportunities and consequences of hybrid work at higher rates, according to Gallup’s research.

The good news is that using those flexible options appears to be helping -- women who are hybrid or exclusively remote are more engaged and experience less stress and burnout than women who are on-site. In contrast, men who are on-site or hybrid experience stress and burnout at approximately the same rates.

With hybrid options benefiting women on measures like burnout and stress, it’s easy to see why it has so quickly become something they expect of employers. Once you’ve had the autonomy to balance your work schedule and location to meet your unique needs, there’s no going back. Scrolling through social media, you see no shortage of memes -- TikToks and Reels poke fun at employers’ attempts to persuade employees to come back to the office, and the message is clear: Keep your free snacks; I’m good, thanks. In a world that tells working women they can “have it all,” hybrid flexibility appears to come closest to delivering on that promise. But can it?

Here’s the catch: Even though women are more engaged than men in general, they experience significantly higher levels of stress and burnout than their male counterparts, no matter their work location.


This is cause for concern. Typically, engaged employees are 26% less likely to say they experienced stress during a lot of the previous day. Yet, despite women being more engaged and now having more flexibility, they still feel more stressed and more burned out than men.

With many working women responsible for more of the primary caregiver and domestic responsibilities than men, competing demands for their time and attention could be heightening stress and burnout among women. Workers think hybrid work benefits their work-life balance, but it might not be that simple.

Although hybrid gives workers the flexibility to handle the demands of life, women using it to do just that might find themselves facing loftier and even more unrealistic expectations (from themselves and society) to “do it all.” And worse, as those expectations increase, coordinating and balancing more than ever at home and work might be at the expense of their career development.

When you take women’s passion for and commitment to their work and layer on those heightened expectations, higher levels of stress, and a slower developmental track, it’s not just unsustainable -- it’s a recipe for burnout.

The negative outcomes can be exacerbated if your workforce isn’t using your flex work policy evenly, as it’s easy for leaders and managers to unintentionally fall into traps like proximity and productivity bias. Without intending to, managers might give more opportunities to employees they see on-site more often or assume those employees are working harder than others. Intangibles like mentoring and sharing real-time feedback are easier to deliver in person. Are women flexing themselves out of the fast track?

At a time when most leaders recognize the important role women play in a diverse workplace -- Gallup data suggest that women are often your very best managers2 -- these warning signs should be ringing alarm bells for organizations everywhere. Leaders should start seeking solutions now to mitigate these risks for all workers, but for women especially.

Here’s the catch: Even though women are more engaged than men in general, they experience significantly higher levels of stress and burnout than their male counterparts, no matter their work location.

It’s Time to Ask Hard Questions

For hybrid work to be effective long term, we must consider the real benefits and risks. Push yourself to look beyond management practices that worked when people were mostly on-site or are simply more comfortable because they’re familiar. Instead, assess how you can modify those practices to align with your commitment to hybrid and remote workers. Use these questions as a starting point:

  • Does your organization’s advertised hybrid policy match what employees are actually doing day in and day out? Your leaders, for example, should model that it’s OK to work hybrid. A disconnect between what employees are told and what’s really expected creates confusion and tension between employer and employee, amplifying stress and fanning the flames of burnout.
  • Are employees who work flex schedules unknowingly sacrificing opportunities for development and advancement? Discuss any practical changes needed to ensure workers aren’t missing opportunities for mentorship, building relationships and advancing in their career. Hold your organization accountable to make changes happen.
  • How do your managers track and reward great performance? Metrics and methods of tracking excellence should transcend location. If teams are working flexibly, managers have to understand performance management and culture in a flexible way.
  • How is accountability shared in a hybrid environment? Clearly articulating who owns which responsibility is critical. For example, if leaders are responsible for articulating a vision or creating culture, employees should be expected to maintain high performance in line with that vision or culture. Being a good teammate still matters -- no matter everyone’s location. Striking the right level of accountability through clear communication and expectation setting is key to reaping the benefits of flexibility in the long term.

Whatever policy your organization lands on for hybrid work, be sure to consider all the angles, not just what’s immediately obvious. Embrace the advantages and address risks head-on. Be aware of the ramifications and the potential impact on engagement and development, especially for women (or yourself). Introduce or reinforce mechanisms and safeguards to protect those who use flexible work arrangements so they aren’t sacrificing career advancement for flexibility. Check in with your people -- if something isn’t working, move forward equipped with that knowledge as you adjust your approach. Above all, be sure that your policy matches your culture -- if it doesn’t, consider revising your policy, your culture or both.

Make hybrid work for your organization.


Kristen Lipton is Managing Director of Business Development at Gallup.

Jessica Schatz and Ben Wigert contributed to this article.

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