Perks, benefits, and accommodations are now up in the air in the new hybrid world, and HR is going to look a lot different than it once did. Lorna Borenstein, the founder of the employee wellbeing engagement solution Grokker, has some tips for what small businesses with small HR departments can do to follow hybrid work trends in mindful, supportive ways.

Challenges in the hybrid transition

While HR departments might be having a tough time working out how the hybrid transition is going to look, they have to remember that the shift from remote work to hybrid work is just as tough for employees. These days, it’s not just about giving people what they need when they need it, it’s also about having resources for employees to utilize for connectivity purposes whether they’re at home or in the office.

“At a time when staff is rarely all in the same place at the same time, HR teams have had to become more flexible, adaptable, and employee-centered than ever before,” Borenstein begins. “The in-office culture they left behind in 2019 is nowhere to be found. Remote employees, in turn, may feel left out if groups are congregating in the office for a meeting — and even if they dial in, they’re not being included in the same way that they would be if they showed up in person.”

This sense of exclusion, Borenstein adds, is exacerbated by the long hours brought about by working from home. According to statistics from Indeed, over half of both remote and in-person workers are having trouble leaving work behind at the end of the workday. While companies might believe that this is good for productivity, it really just fosters burnout and hurts worker retention.

“All this adds up to employees who often feel frustrated, disengaged, and burned out,” Borenstein concludes, “and it can be extremely difficult for HR departments to retain employees in that environment.”

The place of HR

To handle the logistical, emotional and technological turmoil of returning to work, Borenstein argues that HR is a foundational necessity, as HR tends to control workplace policies and optional perks. Most importantly, it’s essential that HR departments focus on crafting thoughtfully constructed programs around wellness, which need to be instituted to fight the growing plague of burnout.

“It’s HR’s job to find ways to help managers and employees connect with one another,” Borenstein says. “The biggest roadblock standing in the way of employee success, regardless of where they’re working, is burnout — and it needs to be addressed immediately. Many leaders, in and outside of HR, are beginning to see the power of taking a more empathetic and authentic approach to people management, but it takes time and the right resources to “get it right” and start making the difference that employees are expecting. This is especially important when designing hybrid work policies because the hybrid work environment not only makes it difficult for employees to feel connected, but it’s adding to already alarming stress levels.”

Borenstein notes that the statistics indicate burnout “has reached crisis proportions.” A recent report from FlexJobs states that 75% of workers have undergone burnout at one time or another, and more research from Indeed buffers that evidence, as an astounding 67% of respondents believe that burnout has reached new highs over the past year.

How to move forward

While it might seem like the best way to tackle the hybrid work world head-on is for HR to begin planning out who’s in the office when there are other parts of the hybrid transition that are just as important. A new hybrid HR for the new hybrid work world needs to focus less on the nuts and bolts of the workplace, and more on the carpenters.

1. Communication on both sides

Despite the fact that burnout is only getting worse, only 21% of workers report being able to talk to their HR departments about it in a productive, open way. To fix the problem, Borenstein says, the ball isn’t just in HR’s court.

“HR departments need to take a long hard look at these stats and be realistic about whether or not they’re maintaining open lines of communication with employees and supporting them with the right resources,” Borenstein says. “But employees can help! They need to keep in mind that most HR departments are well aware of the employee burnout and retention issues happening in record numbers. It’s imperative that employees are honest with their HR departments about their pain points and what, specifically, would help them to feel less stressed and more engaged at work.”

“Chances are,” Borenstein adds, “HR teams are really eager for the insight. The world of work has changed so much in the past year that even the most overwhelmed HR departments are open to having these conversations with employees now.

2. Being flexible with your flexibility

Flexibility is another cornerstone of the hybrid work world, but unfortunately, it’s one of the most misunderstood aspects of office life. Borenstein explains that you shouldn’t assume that flexibility simply means scheduling a few days a week in the office, as you could easily get caught up in a pattern of rigidly enforcing schedules that were meant to be accommodating.

“Employees want a lot of flexibility,” Borenstein begins, “sometimes more than most HR departments are prepared or able to grant them at this point. In addition to that, employees want an organization that makes them feel genuinely cared for — and this means supporting their physical and emotional wellbeing and enabling them to connect around shared values.”

“My company already had a hybrid schedule pre-pandemic, which we have expanded,” Borenstein says, “so as soon as it’s safe, our team will work three days in the office and two days from home. But again, we also allow flexibility for whatever might come up in life that employees need to attend to. We don’t hold it against them, and we don’t make them feel bad about it.”

A huge psychological benefit of this policy, Borenstein notes, is that levels of trust are increased on both sides.

“Allowing people to design their own schedules and come into the office when it works best for them is ideal. Trust that employees can get their work done and be engaged without being forced to be physically present in the office at all times. Flexibility and trust will go a long way towards mitigating anxiety and making employees feel cared for. You can’t expect employees to care about their job if you don’t show you care about them.”

3. Facilitating self-care throughout the workday

Finally, HR departments need to remember that self-care isn’t just an email blast filled with optional resources. To truly allow for employee wellness, remember that one of the main causes of burnout is an inability to walk away from work – but just telling people to clock out at five isn’t really going to work. As a result, Borenstein recommends that HR departments remind employees to take reasonable breaks throughout the day.

“Rather than trying to get people to “unplug” in an unrealistic way,” Borenstein says, “apps like Grokker work to seamlessly incorporate that self-care into people’s busy daily lives, making it easy for them to take the time to focus on whatever they need to feel their best, physically or mentally, even if it’s just for a few minutes at a time.”

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