No Foolin, Hybrid Work Reduces Stress

It’s Stress Awareness Month and what better way to talk about this frustratingly normal part of the human experience than by examining one of it’s frequently cited causes – the workplace. As it turns out, reducing workplace stress starts with addressing your workplace environment.

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The future of work has arrived. Here’s how to make it work for you.

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April is Stress Awareness Month, though a month hardly seems a sufficient enough period of time for acknowledging the hyper stressful state of the world in recent months/years. Global events are their own unique source of angst, of course, and day-to-day stress hasn’t exactly been taking a holiday. 


So, what’s a person to do in order to lower their stress levels?


Let’s talk about work! 


Seriously, work can have a calming influence


Silver linings related to our recent struggles with COVID-19 are few and far between, but one may be the way, amid the uncertainty of the past two years, the push to flexible work was accelerated. With more people choosing to work remotely, flex work solutions have quickly become the order of the day for workplace leaders eager to accommodate the changing needs of their workforces.


Flex came to the rescue, in all of its myriad forms. And the early verdict seems to be that of all of the flex solutions out there, the personal freedom afforded by a hybrid workplace strategy did more than check the most employee boxes. More work/life balance? Check. Fewer hours spent commuting? Check! It checked arguably the biggest box of all — it can actually lower our stress levels.


Hybrid’s popularity was born, in part, by process of elimination. Clearly, office life wasn’t always  a bastion of serenity for all, but the role of the office these past two years has changed in real time, before our very eyes. We all know the story. The office is no longer the sun around which an organization’s workplace culture must orbit. Workplace leaders are realizing in growing numbers that a stressed-out workforce isn’t a particularly productive workforce. If the source of that stress is the office, many are advising their people to simply stay home. 


Except that the home isn’t always the answer, either. Working from home can be great. A 2021 survey from Lloyd’s Register indicated that working from home led to an improved work/life balance for more than half (52%) of the respondents. But that same survey revealed that 69% of respondents reported higher levels of work-related stress while working from the home office. This shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise. Home can be a haven, sure, but it’s also where the kids are, the neighbor’s noisy stereo is, the city’s plodding street repair project is, etc. and the distractions can take their toll on solitude and, more specifically, its work-related corollary, concentration.


In other words, working from home and working from the office both have their upsides and their drawbacks. And one size doesn’t ever fit all. That’s where hybrid work comes in. Hybrid offers the best of both worlds. It’s a corporate setting when you need one, a home office when you crave one; it’s even a coworking space or third space when you’re looking for a place to collaborate, but have neither the time nor the gas money to make the trek to HQ. Hybrid’s appeal is pretty logical. Hybrid work is about flexibility and studies show that flexibility is actually good for us. It’s good for our physical health. It’s good for our mental health. For starters, flex work liberates us from office routines that can feel stultifying. Working in an “alternate” environment for a few days a week reduces the drudgery and frees up time that can be used to exercise, meditate, cook a healthy meal for yourself, or even run that quick errand you never seem to have time to run. It all adds up to more “you time,” a leading contributor to improved workplace balance.


From the employer’s perspective, allowing workers to work partly from home, partly from the office, and partly from elsewhere, is a way of showing support for the concept of work/life balance. The result is improved office morale and higher levels of productivity. We’ve learned that not everyone needs to be in a particular place, at a particular time, in order to do their best work. Employees are happier and more productive when they’re working from where it works for them.  


Taking a balanced approach


Of course, prioritizing your well-being is critical regardless of where you work. Even if your organization has implemented the world’s greatest hybrid work strategy, there can be challenges. Burnout remains a risk if those challenges aren’t taken seriously. 


One challenge is overcompensating for our newfound freedom. Research from the past couple of years shows that remote workers log an average of four more hours per week than their on-site counterparts. The Lloyd’s study referenced above revealed that 22% of respondents felt they were working longer hours than before. Only 7% of respondents in a separate study, conducted by alldayPA, a UK-based customer service provider, had used any annual leave since they’d started working from home, with the reason cited being not “love of work” but, rather, impact on earnings.


Too much screen time does no-one’s work/life balance any favors, of course. Tech fatigue is real. Zoom fatigue is real. It was real even before the Stanford University Virtual Human Interaction Lab undertook a study to examine the perils of those lengthy video chats. 


And as too many of us have discovered firsthand, when work/life balance is neglected, the scale tilts heavily toward stress, which can lead to burnout, which can lead to diminished mental health. It’s a serious issue, with a relatively straightforward solution. Establishing prescribed clock-in / clock-out times, making breaks a priority; forcing yourself to step…away…from…the…computer; eating well; exercising, stretching – these are all important (and proven) ways to ensure the boundaries between personal and professional are clear, regardless of where you work. 


Take care of you and the scale tilts back to the positive, particularly where hybrid is concerned. Work becomes liberating, energizing, stress levels are diminished and productivity increases. Properly implemented, the hybrid approach to work can become be almost as good for you as getting a dog. 


But you could still get a dog.  


April 10th is National Hug Your Dog Day. Coincidence? We think not. President Harry Truman famously quipped about the indispensable value of having a dog in Washington. A similar logic might be applied to having one in the workplace. Plenty of studies have shown that dogs, be they therapy certified or not, can diminish stress levels and boost productivity. They can help us feel more comfortable and make coping with stress easier, which is why so many coworking spaces now invite you to bring your furry friends along. Some even have their own resident dog for that very reason. Then there’s the exercise factor – it’s one thing to force yourself to take a walk. Dogs tend to force the issue. And ten minutes of brisk walking three times a day is proven to lower our blood pressure. 


Thanks, Sparky. 




April brings spring showers and, thanks to the Health Resource Network’s sponsorship of Stress Awareness Month, a friendly reminder to take seriously the impact of work on our mental and physical wellbeing. We’ve learned a lot over the past couple of years, including that great work can be accomplished from anywhere. Now, we’re learning that a hybrid approach to work, the freedom to choose our own work environments and manage our work lives, can reduce stress and help us feel more engaged in our jobs. Personal preference matters. One size doesn’t fit all. We can and should whenever possible work from where it works for us. 


And when we do, we feel much, much better.

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