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Employee fatigue on the rise as organisations fail to adapt to hybrid future

By Shannon Williams
Fri 7 May 2021
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Current virtualized work design models are damaging employees’ well-being and productivity, according to Gartner. 

In order to succeed in a hybrid future, organisations must stop duplicating office-centric practices and shift to a human-centric model, according to Gartner.

The analyst firm says current virtualised work design models are damaging employees’ well-being and productivity.

In response to the large-scale shift to remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organisations largely recreated features of the office – virtualising on-site practices, adding monitoring systems and increasing meetings. These methods have exacerbated existing fatigue among employees.

Gartner’s 2021 Hybrid Work Employee Survey of more than 2,400 knowledge workers in January 2021 reveals that employers’ attempts to recreate visibility by investing in tracking systems has made employees nearly two times more likely to pretend to be working, exacerbating the “always on” phenomenon. 

Employers’ attempts to recreate serendipity by adding more meetings has led to virtual overload – employees who now spend more time in meetings are 1.24 times more likely to feel emotionally drained from their work.

“Force-fitting a design created for a different environment exacerbates fatigue, and fatigue impacts many talent outcomes,” says Alexia Cambon, director in the Gartner HR practice. 

“When employees experience high levels of fatigue, employee performance decreases by up to 33%, feelings of inclusion decrease by up to 44% and employees are up to 54% less likely to remain with their employer.”

On-Site Versus Hybrid

Traditionally, work has been designed around employees who are co-located in a physical workplace. However, the Gartner survey revealed that only 4% of current hybrid or remote employees would choose to return fully on-site as their preferred option.

“Organisations have reacted to this crisis by recreating what they know, but rather than merely adapting principles from the on-site environment to the hybrid world, organisations need to unlearn old habits and fundamentally rethink work design,” says Jérôme Mackowiak, director, advisory, in the Gartner HR practice. 

“Forcing employees to go back to the on-site environment could result in employers losing up to 39% of their workforce.”

HR can increase employee performance and reduce fatigue by creating a hybrid work model that focuses on the following:

Providing employee-driven flexibility

Employers should adopt an employee-driven approach to flexible working that empowers employees to choose where, when and how they work. To successfully make this shift, employers must destigmatise flexible working by making it the default – not the exception – and developing principles – not policies – around flexible working.

Employee-driven flexibility enables individuals to integrate personal and professional obligations to achieve work-life harmonisation. In fact, the Gartner survey found that organisations with high levels of flexibility are almost three times more likely to see high employee performance.

Enabling intentional collaboration

Office-centric design relies on the serendipitous “water-cooler” moments to drive innovation. In fact, organisations still reference this as the primary reason to return employees to the office. The Gartner survey showed that HR leaders believe synchronous work – individuals working together whether in-person or virtually – is most critical to drive innovation. But Gartner data shows that asynchronous work is just as important to achieving team innovation.

“Intentional collaboration democratises access to all modes of working – focused not just on location, but time-spend – and is inclusive of both business and employee needs,” says Cambon. 

“Progressive organisations are relying less on innovation by chance, and more on innovation by design. Among employees whose organisations have high levels of intentional collaboration, 75% also report having high levels of team innovation," she says.

Driving empathy-based management

Shifting to a hybrid environment introduced new employee struggles at the same time manager visibility decreased. While employees report difficulty disconnecting from work, feeling overwhelmed by caretaking responsibilities and suffering from virtual fatigue, 69% of HR leaders report that managers have less visibility into employee work patterns in today’s hybrid scenario.

While 89% of HR leaders agree managers must lead with empathy in the hybrid environment, Gartner research revealed that organisational investments in managers to enable empathy-based management are falling short. For instance, while 68% of HR leaders agree that many managers are overwhelmed by their responsibilities in today’s hybrid work model, only 14% of organisations have changed manager role design to reduce their responsibilities.

Managing with empathy requires a shift away from performance by inputs toward performance by outcomes. However, with managers already overwhelmed by the demands of their role, HR leaders must adopt a holistic strategy that focuses on overcoming three common barriers to empathy: skill, mindset, and capacity.

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