Addressing the Burnout, Loneliness, and Indifference Associated with Remote Work
By Ben Breslau and Steve Ramseur
Now that the business world has settled into the work-from-home experiment, how are we doing? Like most things, it depends on whom you ask.
Remote work has certainly created opportunities, allowing many workers to avoid long commutes and to spend more quality time with family. It has broadened the talent pool for many employers. Flexibility needs to be part of the future. It was important before the pandemic, and we’re not going back now.
But remote work also exposed social risks. Workers are experiencing burnout and loneliness. Without face-to-face communication, many miss having a sense of shared purpose and are more indifferent to their employers. At the same time, companies are struggling to retain and recruit talent in a highly competitive environment.
None of these issues are going to get better on their own—at least not anytime soon.
The burnout is real
Half of all employees today struggle to set boundaries when working from home.
While work from home presents some opportunities for a better work-life balance, many workers are experiencing the opposite. People are working longer hours, and lacking the separation of the commute and talks in the hallway between meetings, they struggle with a lack of downtime that is critical to the innovative thinking that propels organizations forward.
The lack of separation between home and office is disproportionately affecting parents and caregivers, who miss the solid line of demarcation they previously established. And Gen Z is not immune to struggles, either. These newest entrants to the workforce have higher-than-average fears of unemployment and worry their lack of face time with leaders is slowing their career progression. Established professionals who may be fine working from the comfort of their home offices and second homes would not have those luxuries if they had not been in person building their skills, experiences, and networks earlier in their careers.
More than ever, employees struggle with their mental health, anxiety in particular. The always-on nature of remote work haunts high achievers, as the kitchen table or the spare bedroom is only a couple of steps away.
There is also the issue of disenchantment. We are social animals, and remote workers struggle to feel connected to virtual peers. Sixty-one percent of the workforce is craving human interaction with colleagues, JLL research finds.
Some employees also face challenges rising in the ranks while working from home. And these days, people who are not getting promoted are seeking greener pastures elsewhere; it is hard for them to feel loyal to people they have never met in person. The Great Resignation is all too real, especially for employers vying to attract and retain talent.
It is time to rethink the office
JLL is advising our clients to position the office as a destination that reinforces company culture, enables collaboration, and enhances creativity. This is a space for nurturing a sense of belonging where networking, learning, growing, collaborating, solving complex problems, and developing new products are the by-products of a flourishing environment.
Think of it this way: The office is no longer like a landline phone, with limited choices and uninspiring features billed to the designated utility. Today the workplace is a smartphone that individuals can personalize to meet their needs and companies can use to create experiences that unlock their highest potential. Right now, health and wellness, mentorship, and purpose are great individual needs, and talent attraction and retention, innovation, and culture underpin a company’s potential.
We are advising our clients to use this unprecedented opportunity to create office environments—and workplace cultures—that are more sustainable, personalized, responsible, and experiential. Imagine the workplace as a painting in progress. Learning from the styles of the past and influenced by these unique times, companies and employees are choosing their colors, applying brushstrokes to the canvas, and trying to paint an inspiring picture.
To thrive today and tomorrow requires a flexible approach. Companies that say “This is our model” while drawing a line in the sand will inevitably backpedal. But companies that say “We are going to learn as we go, based on our mission and values” are more likely to succeed. We guide companies to be clear about their purpose and to understand how their workplace can best support it now and into the future—and then test, learn, and adapt to change the way we work for the well-being of all stakeholders.
Visit our website to learn how to facilitate a return to the office, identify a workplace strategy that works best for your people, and more.
Ben Breslau is chief research officer, Americas, at JLL. He recently coauthored the book The Workplace You Need Now. Steve Ramseur is chief innovation officer, Americas, at JLL, and an executive professor at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School.