- Employee surveys and academic research indicate that remote and hybrid work can have positive effects on well-being, work-life balance, and stress levels, reducing burnout.
- Cognitive biases such as confirmation bias and status quo bias may prevent traditionalists from recognizing these benefits, leading them to advocate for a return to office-based work.
- Employers must provide mental health benefits, including online options, to help employees address burnout and other mental health challenges.
Traditionalist business leaders and gurus argue that remote and hybrid work is detrimental to employee mental health, causing social isolation, a sense of meaninglessness, and poor work-life balance. Instead, they advocate for a return to office-based work.
Journalist Malcolm Gladwell, for instance, has questioned whether people want to spend their work lives in pajamas at home.
These traditionalists cite various articles highlighting the risks of remote work for mental health. The Atlantic suggests that the annoyance of commuting is nothing compared to the misery of loneliness, which can result in depression, substance abuse, and other issues. Forbes reports that over two-thirds of remote employees struggle to disconnect from work at the end of the day, and Fast Company claims that remote work can worsen existing mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
However, these articles and claims often overlook the negative impact of office-based work on well-being, which remote work seeks to address.
Remote Work Well-being According to Remote Workers
Critics of remote work often compare it to leisure activities, which is not a fair comparison. A more relevant comparison would be between remote work and office-based work, which entails long commutes, uncomfortable office environments, and unhealthy eating habits.
Employee surveys provide insights into remote work well-being
A 2022 Cisco survey of 28,000 global employees revealed that 78% believed remote and hybrid work improved their overall well-being. Furthermore, 79% felt that working remotely enhanced their work-life balance. Of the few who reported no improvement or even worsening work-life balance, the main reason was the difficulty of disconnecting from work.
The majority of improvements came from time saved due to reduced commutes and increased schedule flexibility. Most respondents used this extra time to spend with family, friends, and pets or to practice self-care. As a result, remote work improved family relationships, friendships, and overall happiness, while decreasing stress levels.
Other surveys, such as those by the Future Forum, Tracking Happiness, CNBC, and Gallup, similarly support the positive effects of remote and hybrid work on well-being. Academic research also corroborates these findings.
Burnout and Remote Work Well-being
Burnout is a genuine concern for all employees, regardless of their work environment. However, surveys from before the widespread adoption of remote work (e.g., Deloitte and Gallup, both from 2018) show higher burnout rates than those conducted during the pandemic (e.g., McKinsey in April 2021 and The Hartford in September 2021). These results suggest that remote and hybrid work may have reduced burnout rather than exacerbating it.
Nonetheless, employers must provide mental health benefits, including online options, to help employees address burnout and other mental health challenges.
Setting Boundaries and Expectations to Improve Remote Work Well-being
Remote and hybrid work can indeed pose challenges regarding work-life separation. To address these issues, companies should establish clear expectations and boundaries around communication response times and work-life balance.
Additionally, employees should be encouraged to take regular breaks during the workday to prevent burnout, improve productivity, and reduce errors. Implementing shorter meetings and incorporating restorative mental activities are also helpful strategies.
Cognitive Biases and Remote Work Wellbeing
Cognitive biases, such as confirmation bias and status quo bias, might be influencing these traditionalists’ perspectives on remote work.
Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. Traditionalists who view remote work negatively may be more inclined to pay attention to and cite articles that support their existing opinions, while ignoring or discounting evidence that contradicts their beliefs. This bias can lead to an incomplete or distorted understanding of the remote work’s impact on employee well-being.
Status quo bias is the preference for the current state of affairs, and the resistance to change. Traditionalists who advocate for office-based work might be influenced by the status quo bias, as they are more comfortable with the familiar office environment and resistant to the changes that remote work brings. This bias can prevent them from objectively evaluating the potential benefits of remote and hybrid work, as they may be more focused on preserving the existing work arrangements.
Employee surveys and academic research indicate that remote and hybrid work can have positive effects on well-being, work-life balance, and stress levels. However, cognitive biases such as confirmation bias and status quo bias may prevent traditionalists from recognizing these benefits, leading them to advocate for a return to office-based work.
To overcome these biases and make more informed decisions, both proponents and skeptics of remote work should actively seek out diverse perspectives and critically evaluate the evidence. By acknowledging and addressing the influence of cognitive biases, organizations can better assess the true impact of remote work on employee well-being and make more effective decisions about work arrangements.
By setting clear expectations and boundaries, companies can tackle the most significant challenge of remote and hybrid work: work-life balance. The research overwhelmingly indicates that overall well-being and burnout are better managed by remote and hybrid workers than their in-office counterparts in similar roles.