The Impact of Remote Work on Employee Well-Being
A look at how COVID-19-induced remote work changed workplace behaviors, and more importantly, how it impacted employee well-being.
COVID-19 altered workplace dynamics, forcing companies to rapidly transition to remote work. For many individuals, remote work is here to stay in some form, whether through a hybrid in-office/work-from-home model or fully remote. In this blog, we explore how COVID-19-induced remote work changed workplace behaviors, and more importantly, how it impacted employee well-being for the better and worse.
Using the Cypris innovation dashboard, we explored innovation activity in the field of remote work, conducting a literature review among the 17,272 available research papers. Take a look at what we found.
For companies, remote work comes with its savings—organizations save around $11,000 per employee per year if they allow their employees to work remotely at least 50% of the time (Global Workplace Analytics, 2021). More importantly, data shows that remote workers tend to be more satisfied with their work/life balance (Sundin, 2010). Remote work is also associated with higher organizational commitment, job satisfaction, and job-related well-being (Felstead & Henseke, 2017), as well as decreased turnover intention (Kroll & Neusch 2017). While many studies report individuals have a positive view of remote work, the key to happy employees, satisfaction, and reduced burnout when working from home is employee engagement.
Gallup (2021) defines employee engagement (EE) as individuals who are enthusiastic about, committed to, and involved in their work and workplace. According to Saks and Gruman (2014), factors proven to positively affect levels of EE within an organization include: “autonomy, feedback, development opportunities, positive workplace climate, recovery, rewards, recognition, and support”. When employees are engaged, loyalty, productivity, and their desire to go above and beyond in their organizations increase (Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004; Lemon & Palenchar, 2018; Weideman & Hofmeyr, 2020). COVID-19, in particular, affected EE rates—Gallup reported that EE in 2020 “fluctuated more than ever before”, and that the level of EE among U.S. workers reached a new high with 40% reporting to be “very engaged” in July 2020 compared to 33% in July 2019.
Despite the extensive benefits of remote work, it’s important to acknowledge that there are some downfalls. One source found that remote work comes at the cost of work-intensification and a greater inability to switch off (Felstead & Henseke, 2017). Generally, the biggest risk of flexible work comes when no clear boundaries are in place, leading employees to feel the need to be constantly online. Depending on factors like personality type and gender, remote work can also have a negative impact.
For some, remote work increases performance and job satisfaction, while others are left feeling isolated and less productive. A 2020 study assessed how different personality types experience remote work, assessing traits like conscientiousness (being organized and thoughtful), introversion (being quiet and reserved), neuroticism (being moody and easily frustrated), openness to experience (being curious and eager to try new things), and agreeableness (being friendly and kind to others) (Ogbonnaya, 2020). Those who scored high on openness to experience felt less worried, depressed, or miserable when working remotely, while agreeable people and introverts also reported feeling less worried and depressed. Neurotic people were at a greater risk of reporting poor mental health when working remotely. Those who scored low on conscientiousness, or found it hard to plan things carefully, reported feeling worried and gloomy (Ogbonnaya, 2020).
Gender also plays a key role in how people experience remote work, which several studies conducted during COVID-19 uncovered. A 2021 study on women in IT found that women were negatively affected by remote work resulting from the pandemic, due to the struggle to balance occupational stress and family life (Subha B. et al., 2021). Other data, including reports by McKinsey, uphold this trend.
McKinsey asserts that decades of research indicate that women take on more housework and childcare than men in addition to their professional careers, leading to what sociologists deem the “second shift”. In fact, mothers were over 3x more likely to be responsible for most of the housework and caregiving during the pandemic, and 1.5x more likely to spend an additional 3 or more hours per day on housework and children (McKinsey, 2020). As a result, many mothers, particularly those with young children, considered leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers during COVID-19, primarily due to childcare responsibilities. Despite the risk of burnout, women still report a higher preference for remote work post-pandemic than men—since women feel disproportionately responsible for household chores and parenting obligations, the flexible of remote work is ideal.
Where we go from here
While remote work offers more flexibility and increases well-being for most employees, it’s important to address the risk it poses for workers across the board—burnout. Companies should take measures to increase employee engagement, mental health benefits, support for parents and caregivers, and offer more paid leave to help mitigate burnout risk. Additionally, establishing clear boundaries that protect downtime, measuring performance based on results, and encouraging employees to take time for themselves can go a long way to reduce burnout and lessen the risk of losing talent, particularly women.
To learn more about remote work research, visit ipcypris.com and get started with access to the innovation dashboard for more insights.
B., Subha, R., Madhusudhanan, and Thomas, A., 2021. An Investigation of the Impact of Occupational Stress on Mental health of remote working women IT Professionals in Urban health of remote working women IT Professionals in Urban Bangalore, India Bangalore, India. Journal of International Women's Studies, 22(6).
Felstead, A., & Henseke, G. (2017). Assessing the growth of remote working and its consequences for effort, well-being and work-life balance. New Technology, Work and Employment, 32 (3). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ntwe.12097
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