- Leaders’ attitudes often have an outsized influence on hybrid strategies
- Workstyle-matched employees are more engaged than mismatched employees
- Managers have the most impact on engagement and wellbeing
Remote, hybrid or office-based work? Which is better, and how do you achieve the right balance? Regardless of your choice, two things are crucial: the decision-making process and the effective handling of challenges associated with your chosen strategy.
Let’s start with the decision-making process. From the CHRO perspective, what influences the decisions made about flexible working?
Unfortunately, many CHROs report that executive teams often base flexible work decisions on emotions and their attitudes about hybrid or remote work rather than data and a rational analysis of their organization’s requirements. In a 2023 CHRO Roundtable study, Gallup asked 140 CHROs from Fortune 500 companies whether their executive team had a positive or negative attitude about hybrid and remote work. It was clear that a negative or positive attitude greatly influenced the beliefs and decisions of the company.
CHROs who reported that their company’s executives have a negative attitude toward hybrid and remote work also said these executives are:
- 3.7 times more likely to be working in the office themselves five days per week.
- Requiring their workforce to spend 1.25 more days per week in the office.
- 18% less likely to believe hybrid work increases performance.
- 1.8 times more likely to have punitive policies in place for non-compliance.
- 10.5 times more likely to reduce flexibility even further in the coming year.
Bringing objectivity and data to an organization’s decision-making process matters because remote flexibility can bring about unexpected challenges with employee engagement, wellbeing and mental health that organizations need to anticipate and manage. Leaders who formulate their flexible work strategy without considering the specific demands of their organization’s workplace may not be ready to mitigate any unintended consequences that arise.
Despite CHRO or executive team perceptions of flexible work or its impact on the organization, most CHROs plan to keep the same degree of flexibility in the future. The 2023 CHRO Roundtable study revealed that 73% of CHROs plan to offer employees the same degree of flexibility in the coming 12 months. This suggests that most CHROs are emphasizing consistency and sustainability of their flexible work policies rather than making changes.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to flexible work, and the optimal strategy for one organization may not be right for another. Clearly, both workplace engagement and wellbeing are vitally important, and organizations need to ensure that both are addressed effectively in consideration of where employees do their jobs.
At the end of the day, addressing how flexible work arrangements affect employee engagement and wellbeing primarily comes down to having a good manager. Great managers are nearly four times more important than work location when it comes to employee engagement and wellbeing.
Use the following three strategies to enhance your managers’ ability to improve both engagement and wellbeing no matter which policy your company has chosen.
Strategy #1: Understand Employees’ Preferred Ways of Working
Employers need to understand their employees’ preferences for how they want work and life to fit together.
A widespread misconception about flexible work is that employees equate flexibility with a desire to mix their work and personal lives during the day. To assess this, Gallup asked U.S. employees which of the following work schedules they would prefer Monday through Friday, regardless of whether they work remotely or in the office:
- A job in which you work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and attend to other life activities before or after work (Gallup calls these employees “splitters”).
- A job in which you alternate between work and other life activities throughout the day (Gallup calls these employees “blenders”).
The study's results revealed a surprising 50/50 split: 50% of the U.S. workforce would prefer to be splitters, and 50% would prefer to be blenders.
Understanding these preferences is vital. When organizations don't know employees’ preferences for the way they want to work, it could lead to lower engagement, feelings of disrespect and more burnout for all.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to flexible work, and the optimal strategy for one organization may not be right for another.
Regardless of whether their work arrangements are fully remote, hybrid or exclusively on-site, when employees’ schedules match their preferred style of working, only 22% say they feel burned out very often or always; 35% feel engaged; and 46% say they are watching for or actively seeking a new job. But when employees’ schedules are misaligned with their preferences, 35% say they feel burned out very often or always; 26% feel engaged; and 60% say they are watching for or actively seeking a new job.
When developing a flexible work strategy that effectively boosts both engagement and wellbeing, leaders must first understand their employees’ preferences.
Strategy #2: Switch From Programs to Conversations
Often, organizations offer elaborate wellbeing programs and services that do not meet most of employees’ needs. Senior management may think these programs are generous, and we know this because 65% of CHROs believe their organization cares about the wellbeing of their workforce. However, even when these programs require large investments, very few employees typically use them. Even worse, in the U.S., less than a quarter of employees strongly agree that their employer cares about their wellbeing.
Caring is not a program -- it is a relationship. The most important relationship you can have at work is with your manager. However, according to a 2022 Gallup CHRO Roundtable survey, training for managers is mainly focused on wellbeing programs (72%), while only 49% report training managers on how to have a conversation with their team about wellbeing. Change your training to focus on showing care and building relationships rather than outsourcing to a program that few will use in the end.
Strategy #3: Help the Hybrid Manager
Remote and hybrid work is now a permanent workplace fixture: In an October 2023 Gallup study of remote-capable employees in the U.S., 53% reported that in the long term, they expect to be working in hybrid mode, while 22% said they expect to be fully on-site and 25% exclusively remote. As a result, organizations need to help their managers meet the challenge of leading, coaching and developing their teams in this fundamentally changed environment.
Gallup’s CHRO Roundtable research shows that nine in 10 HR leaders have offered formal or informal training to managers on leading remote and hybrid teams. But how do managers perceive this training? Unfortunately, over half (57%) of U.S. managers reported receiving no formal or informal training on managing remote or hybrid teams.
Over half of CHROs said their training programs are optional, and managers frequently find themselves swamped with work and too busy to participate in them. This lack of effective manager training and support is compounded by the finding that managers who lead hybrid teams are more likely to report suffering from burnout compared with their counterparts leading fully remote or on-site teams. If organizations are depending on their managers to address challenges brought about by greater work flexibility, these managers require their own support structure to boost and sustain their own engagement and wellbeing.
Achieve the Right Balance
It is not enough for your employees to be engaged and productive. They need to thrive in both work and life, and you must address their mental health requirements, especially if your organization offers highly flexible remote and hybrid work policies. It is possible to achieve the right balance between engagement and mental health if your organization’s decision is evidence-based and you use strategies that help managers alleviate the effects of challenges that come up.