Opinion: Business leaders say remote work is bad for employee well-being, but workers disagree

Cibulski is the CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts, a mixed-job consultancy. He recently moved from Pacific Beach to Columbus, Ohio.

Traditional business leaders and gurus such as former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Apple CEO Tim Cook say remote and hybrid work is bad for employees’ mental health and leads to social isolation, meaninglessness and a lack of jobs/ Life boundaries, so we should all go back to office-centric work. Author Malcolm Gladwell says there’s a “core psychological truth that we want you to belong and feel a need. …I know it’s a hassle to get into the office, but if you’re just in your pajamas Sitting in the bedroom, is that the work life you want to live?

The problem with this claim stems from a sneaky misdirection. They decried the negative impact of remote and hybrid work on happiness. However, they gloss over the damage to happiness caused by the alternative: office-centric work.

It’s like comparing remote and hybrid work to a state of leisure. Of course, if people could go out with friends for a beer instead of work, they would feel less isolated. But it’s not in the card. The content in the card is office-centric work. That means the frustration of a long commute, sitting at a desk for eight hours in an often uncomfortable and depressing open-plan office, eating a sad lunch and unhealthy snacks at the desk, and then on the way home more frustrated.

So what happens when we compare apples to apples? That’s when we need to hear from horses: namely surveys of employees themselves who experienced office work before the pandemic and mixed and remote work after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Consider a Cisco survey of 28,000 full-time employees worldwide in 2022. 78% of respondents said remote and hybrid work improved their overall well-being, and 79% said remote work improved their work-life balance. 74% reported that working from home improved their family relationships and 51% said it strengthened their friendships – so there was no problem with social life there. 82% report that the ability to work from anywhere makes them happier, and 55% report that such work reduces their stress levels.

Other surveys support Cisco’s findings. For example, a 2022 Future Forum survey compared knowledge workers working full-time in an office, in a hybrid model, and working entirely remotely. The survey found that full-time office workers were the least satisfied with their work-life balance, mixed workers were in the middle, and those who worked entirely remotely were the most satisfied. According to a 2022 Gallup survey, 71% of respondents said that hybrid work improves work-life balance compared to office work, and 58% reported less burnout.

Academic peer-reviewed research provides further support. Consider a 2022 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health of bank employees working on the same tasks of advising clients remotely or in person. It found that fully remote employees experience higher meaning, self-fulfillment, happiness and commitment than in-person employees.

Still, burnout is a real problem for hybrid and remote workers, as well as for office workers. Employers need to provide mental health benefits through online options to help employees cope with these challenges.

Furthermore, while remote and hybrid jobs are generally better for well-being, they do have specific disadvantages in terms of work-life separation.

To address this, companies need to establish and motivate clear expectations and boundaries. They need to develop policies and norms around response times across different communication channels and clarify employee work/life boundaries.

As for other issues, research clearly shows that remote and hybrid workers have lower levels of overall well-being and burnout than office workers in the same roles.

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