Is hybrid working actually good for our health?


70% of UK employers have given staff more flexible working to improve their wellbeing. But is the corporate dream really being fulfilled?

hybrid working cartoon

Wellness has been catapulted into the spotlight since the outbreak of Covid-19.

The pandemic put into perspective how essential it is to look after our physical health and mental wellbeing – not just during turbulent times, but on a daily basis too.

During the throes of lockdown, finding a social life balance, while adhering to rules, was the juggling act.

Now, with many of us finding a new rhythm, our latest pursuit is for a perfect hybrid work balance. And we’re also expecting our bosses to support our health and wellbeing, new research from Vitality has revealed.

And the onus has shifted onto bosses to support physical and mental wellness following the pandemic, that’s according to more than 80% of British office workers.

So, it’s crunch time for businesses to step up.

70% of British employers are allowing staff to work more flexibly

Why? Because people are voting with their feet if they do not like what they see from their employer – a trend widely known as the ‘Great Resignation’ – which is seeing staff members leave workplaces in droves.

To help put a stop to this, around 70% of British employers are allowing their staff to work more flexibly. 

Those businesses introducing effective hybrid working systems and putting into practice wellbeing policies to support staff are benefitting as a result.  

But there's a question that looms. Almost 18 months after lockdown 3.0 was lifted, are we finding the right WFH, WFB (working from bed), or WFS (working from sofa) balance in all of this?

Don’t just be fair, care

It is clear that businesses have been keen to flex their agile muscles when it comes to implementing WFH systems, and this is being used as a way to keep us happy at work.

“It is widely accepted that the pandemic has changed the expectations of how and when an employer can and should support satisfaction and productivity at work,” says Pippa Andrews, Director of Vitality’s Corporate Business.

“This is especially important for several groups, such as working and lone parents.

“One of the key learnings is that people can thrive and be more productive in all sorts of environments, and if an employer can accommodate some flexibility in how and when individuals can work to suit their working style best.

“It’s likely that not only will they be more productive, but they will also be a happier more engaged and more loyal member of the team. It’s a win-win for both parties.”

So, providing a fresh perspective on the 9 to 5 is good for employers and employees ­– but what’s becoming clear is that there can be a disconnect.

If bosses think that implementing a tick-box approach to wellbeing is enough, they should think again.

Rising demand for support

Esteemed British medical practitioner and Chair of Britain’s Healthiest Workplace, Dame Carol Black, said in an interview recently: “Some people [employers] think a singular intervention like mindfulness will tick the box, but they need to be multi-dimensional.”

“It has taken longer than I would have wished to get employers to understand organisational culture and get middle managers to be people managers,” she added.

Mental health charity Mind has been highlighting the importance of checking in with office workers in this new home-working regime, which encourages people to feel they can “speak up” if they are struggling with their mental health.

But in this new hybrid environment it’s not always easy to foster a healthy workplace culture. Less face-to-face contact, for example, could mean that managers miss early warning signs of those struggling with their mental health.

And this is all coming at a time when demand for support is higher than ever. New research, in partnership with Censuswide, reveals that almost half (44%) of UK office workers want their employer to look after their physical and mental health.

A staggering 77% also believe that having an employer that cares about their wellbeing has become more important since Covid-19.

Employers must do more

Despite our expectations changing, more than a quarter (27%) of British businesses surveyed by CBI Economics have not registered employee health and wellbeing on their company risk register. In addition, around the same number (28%) do not measure employee wellbeing within their organisation at all. 

Equally, only one third (37%) of businesses plan to increase their investment in employee mental health and wellbeing, the research shows.

‘Keep moving, eat well and take time away from screens’

It is clear businesses are falling short. It is no longer enough for organisations to talk at board level about wellbeing initiatives; companies need to be sure that their policies are filtering through the business.

“The big problem we see within companies is that they have a broad range of about 40 health and wellbeing interventions. But only about 30% of employees are aware of them and around 10-15% actually use them,” explains Rich Graham, Vitality Business Development Manager.

Managers play a key role

We’re redefining what we mean by productivity in this new hybrid working environment and adapting and evolving as we go. Workplaces would do well to respond to that, with much of this responsibility falling onto line managers.

“They [managers] need to have discussions with their team about the right amount of time that they need to be in the office, and the right amount of time that they should be at home,” says Graham.

“When people are going into the office, they need to understand what you’re going into the office for.

Because if you’re going into the office to do work that you can actually do on your own, is that the best use of your time? Because you might get a lot more done at home.”

Encouraging healthy behaviour

A more assertive and caring approach to our wellbeing while we work is only going to pay dividends for all involved. And this is something that’s also coming through in research.

Employees whose businesses have invested in these policies were found to be 12% more productive, according to previous research by CBI.

Research by CBI Economics and Vitality, meanwhile, show that seven out of ten businesses have seen increased productivity as a main motivating factor for introducing such policies.

The question remains, though, what does employee support for wellbeing look like in a hybrid working environment?

Especially when it comes to the challenge of integrating healthy behaviours into our day in a way that aids productivity and helps us feel better about ourselves, both physically and mentally.

According to Belinda Sidhu, psychotherapist and workplace wellbeing coach, the answer [to healthy hybrid working] lies in self-care.

“Keep moving, eat well and take time away from screens, especially at night when working from home,” she says.

“Finding balance in a routine that works for you is key in helping to separate your home and work life.

“Often what’s needed are gentle reminders and simple nudges at the right time in the right direction. This is where managers and employers can play an important role.”

Top tips to achieving the ideal WFH environment from psychotherapist and workplace wellbeing coach, Belinda Sidhu:

  • Schedule in regular breaks or short pauses
  • Aim to walk at least 10,000 steps 
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Find a routine that works for you
  • Shutdown at a reasonable time

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Log into Member Zone for the details.

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