For a long time, Covid-19 represented a cease-and-desist letter to socialisation, forcing all of us into an odd hibernation. Consequently, businesses were forced to react to maintain some normality, and in stepped hybrid working.
Fortunately for companies, hybrid working potentially represented a win-win situation. Considerable savings could be made on downsizing office spaces, and the luxury of flexible working could be offered to employees. However, in reality, this autonomy may be costing employers, through the declining mental stability of their workforce.
Hybrid working’s online presence has given rise to a variety of developing trends. “Digital Presenteeism”1 and the “Autonomy Paradox”2 are just a couple. These concepts essentially describe the duality of having added time flexibility, but not being able to “disconnect” from work. Evidentially, 71% of those currently operating under a hybrid system, say that they struggle with a work-life balance.3
This struggle to disconnect has been exacerbated by companies adopting a Big Brother-esque style of online monitoring.4 Labelled the “Amazonian Era”,5 the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to control work performance has been strongly cautioned as contributing to the detriment of employee mental health.6 Attributable longer working days, feelings of isolation and job uncertainty, have been cited as a concern for employees’ mental health.7 In 2020, Barclays was told to “urgently review” a system that tracked how long its employees were sitting at their desks.8 Consequently, the All-Party Parliamentary Group has proposed an Accountability for Algorithmic Act, to protect workers from AI-driven monitoring techniques.9
These additional pressures compound the already observable increase in physical health issues relating to eye strain, back problems and fatigue, as direct results of prolonged computer-related problems. This is so prevalent that “pandemic posture” is now a researched topic.10
Despite all of the above, hybrid working certainly has its benefits. 57% of British workers still view “a flexible schedule” as their top quality in an ideal employer.11 Advantages, such as better time management, allowing for the school run, and spending more time with loved ones, greatly contribute to a balanced work-life environment.
Unfortunately, the dichotomy is that for every positive benefit of hybrid working, there exists a seemingly equal negative. Companies need to maintain a constant finger on the pulse of their employees’ wellbeing. Whether offering greater accessibility to better equipment, improving the hybrid working experience, or seeking regular and realistic feedback on whether an appropriate work-life balance is being achieved, such measures will help companies and employees, together, navigate their way to relieving online pressures.
Author: Harrison Oosterwyk