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The Interaction between the Hybrid and Remote Working Revolution and Maintaining Our Mental Health



Helen Bartimote highlights the importance of addressing mental health and well-being in remote or hybrid working environments. Bartimote discusses the important factors to consider, such as: personality characteristics, models of workplace stress, the role of leadership behaviours, and warning signs and symptoms of burnout.


Helen Bartimote is a licensed and registered chartered Industrial / Organisational psychologist (Health Care Professions Council HCPC + British Psychological Society BPS). Bartimote is also a Tavistock Institute certified leadership coach and has undertaken additional training in psychodynamic-systemic group coaching with KDVI. Currently, she is principal psychologist with Container Solutions.

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Bartimote: Welcome to my talk, the interaction between hybrid-remote working revolution and maintaining our mental health. When I was trying to think of ideas for this talk, putting some thoughts together, I asked myself the question, I wonder, is this model of working hybrid-remote here to stay? Is this the workplace of the future, or are we likely to go back to that colocating workspace? What is the expectation for new generations coming into the workplace? Is this the norm, hybrid-remote working? It got me thinking, and it got me doing a little bit of research, and I stumbled upon an article written by a futurist, and this infographic was part of that article. You can see it says here, "In the future, the office will need to be a place worth going to." This is the 22nd century, we have robots everywhere, interconnected chips. We're working lesser hours in the office environment, or in work in general. Gender equality is almost balanced. It's got other things there are about practical body suits. There was lots of really interesting information about the wearable tech that people have as part of their interactions with work. You can see a bit bold on the left-hand side, work-home merge. There was this focus of the article saying that the office will continue, but the meaning of what that place is will change significantly. It emphasized that the focus of the office is for a physical location, for community, human interaction. It will really be there to act as a compensatory mechanism for the isolation that people might feel when they have to work remotely, and when they're choosing to work remotely. It very much focused in this article on the importance of community. The well-being, mental health of people at work will be an absolute priority. It emphasized the fact that we are human beings, that we are social creatures. Having an opportunity to be part of a group and have a sense of belonging, it highlighted as being recognized, as really important for the world of work.

How Work Was in Previous Generations

Then that got me thinking, let's just remind ourselves of where we've come from, and how work was in previous generations. Really, when you think about it, 75 years ago, professional organizations how they function, much longer working weeks, significant gender inequality. Also, things were slower. They didn't have the technology that we have now. Actually, we've not changed in terms of our biology or physiology, we are the same creatures, but we are of course now dealing with a much more rapid pace of work. The volume of information that we're processing at any one time is very significant. Now, the expectation that we can easily slip into remote working or hybrid working, but actually, it's not that easy, as there are many steps that organizations are taking or should be taking or thinking about taking in terms of making that manageable for us as we move into that space.


Why am I interested in all this? My name is Helen Bartimote. I'm an occupational psychologist, or business psychologist, work psychologist, sometimes known as IO, industrial organizational psychologist. I'm working and I have been working the past few years with a cloud native consultancy called Container Solutions. I've been fortunate enough to work in many different types of organizations. That has been something that I've chosen to do into the professional capacity and have an opportunity to try and experience what it's like to work in different types of settings. I've been a freelancer. I've been an associate. I've been an employee for large corporate organizations, and large public sector organizations. I started with Container Solutions when they were pretty much still moving into that scaleup, but still less than 50 employees, and really supported and helped them embed best practice in terms of hiring, culture, and all the different processes, systems, and mechanisms with creating that psychologically safe environment. How we adapt and work within a hybrid-remote workplace and organizations as a system is something that's very interesting to me within the context of how that impacts our mental health and well-being, and what organizations can do to support that process.

Experience of Hybrid-Remote Work

What is our experience right now of working hybrid-remote? Is it something where we have that flexibility, that utopian workplace of the future? Are we generally more content now that many of us are working hybrid-remote? What are the statistics, the information that's been gathered during COVID, and post-COVID, actually begin to tell us? My next few slides, I've got a few different figures that I've collected that I think are quite interesting in terms of how it seems we are actually experiencing hybrid and remote working. Let's first of all start with this statistic from Microsoft WorkLab. Fifty-three percent of employees are more likely to now prioritize health and well-being over work than before the pandemic. As you look at that statistic, is that something that resonates with you? Can you see that shift? Have you noticed a change in yourself? I know that I certainly have seen a difference across many different settings with people talking more openly about their mental health and their well-being than before COVID. Another statistic from Microsoft WorkLab is this data. It was gathered middle of 2022, possibly, but the link is there for you to go and look at, It was either towards the end of the latter stages of the pandemic or just before. Of course, when it's Microsoft WorkLab, it's a huge sample. What they found was 60% of leaders would feel used up by the end of the day, 54% felt overworked, and 39% felt exhausted. Actually, and in that same study, only 20% of leaders believed that they were effective at leading virtually. The figures are all quite supporting being the utopia, having this amazing flexibility that supports all of our life outside of work, brilliantly. I'm sure there will be people that it's very positive for and they are able to do that. The correlation between the increase in hybrid-remote working, and what we're seeing in terms of data, in terms of sense of exhaustion, in terms of self-reported mental health difficulties, and struggles with well-being is that are they linked, is that the relationship between the two?

This analysis, it's a meta-analysis from the Journal of Organizational Behavior. I just pulled up this comment, because, again, it was reflective of a number of other areas that I've been reading about. Are you currently suffering from burnout? More than 57% of respondents said yes, to that question. My last statistic on this was the graph here from the Financial Times at the end of last year. You can see that this is about the self-reported stress, depression, anxiety, and musculoskeletal disorders. On the graph, you can see people reporting musculoskeletal disorders has decreased in the last 12 months, during 2022, mainly. Then the stress depression and anxiety has increased quite significantly. Andy Haldane the former chief economist of the Bank of England, was quoted in the article in the Financial Times as saying, for the first time probably since the Industrial Revolution, health and well-being are in retreat based on these statistics. What this is saying is something is happening. Of course, we have to factor in all the experiences that people have gone through during the pandemic, and the significant impact that that has had on people. How much of that is in relation to maybe the demand for working more remotely and more hybrid. These things are just factors to consider right now. Think about your own experiences, did you notice a shift in your own well-being throughout that time? How has it been since? Are you with an organization where people have been encouraged to move back into a physical office space, or have you continued working remotely, or hybrid? How is this different than prior to the pandemic? What has been the impact on you, personally?

What Does Poor Mental Health and Well-Being Look and Feel Like?

That brings me to my next question is, what does poor mental health and well-being look and feel like? Of course, the focus of my talk and my work is about an occupational setting. With the areas that I'm talking about, there will be some aspects of that that are specifically related to the workplace. There as well are many that if you were outside of work and experiencing challenges and difficulties outside of the workplace, that they're also relevant. I'm going to present these in terms of three categories: physical symptoms, psychological symptoms, and behavioral outcomes. This is the physical symptoms. This is what we often see. When we're under pressure, our bodies are responding in that fight, flight, freeze mode. They're preparing themselves for something unpleasant, an imminent danger, if we were to think of a physiological response. Prolonged activation of those physiological states, repeated activation takes such a toll on our bodies. That's why when people are reporting difficulties with stress, pressure, mental health, well-being, they will often talk about the physical manifestations, frequent headaches, getting sick more often, prolonged fatigue, stomach and digestive problems, chest pain, insomnia, heart palpitations. If you think about that physiological response, the body preparing, it's no surprise that those symptoms are starting to be seen.

Psychologically, we might have some real challenges with the thoughts that we're experiencing. When we feel under pressure or when our mental health is declining, we may experience increased anxiety and have subsequent panic attacks. That is an issue. Increased feelings of anger, feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, pessimism, loss of interest in activities that we once loved, depression, all of those different things. There's also behavioral outcomes as well. We might see a drop in productivity, increased absenteeism, isolation, difficulties with interacting with the team, sudden mood changes, irritability, job dissatisfaction, increased alcohol and drug use, as well. If these three areas continue, what we might begin to see is the experience of burnout. This is something that I'd now like to talk about briefly in my talk as well.

The Danger Zone: Reaching Burnout

I've said that's the danger zone. If that pressure and that difficulty has continued for a long period of time, then the individual is very likely to experience some form of burnout. These are the three core areas that describe the experience of burnout. Firstly, we would see that sense of exhaustion, so being physically and emotionally drained. Eventually that chronic exhaustion would lead to people disconnecting or distancing themselves emotionally and cognitively from their work. That's a way to cope with overload. Cynicism, that's the sense that everything and everyone is starting to bother you, in a way, and you again start to distance yourself from these people by actively ignoring the qualities of those people that make them unique, make them engaging. It ultimately results in the sense of just very low empathy, if any empathy at all. Or the difficulties to find that empathy and express it. Inefficacy is the third area. Why bother, who cares mentality? It's the struggle to identify goals, to feel a sense of accomplishment, to feel as though having an impact on your work. It is the case with burnout even when under pressure, there may still be the desire to achieve these things. Once burnout is reached, it might actually be really nigh impossible to be doing those things, it becomes very difficult to engage in work at all. That sense of depletion can actually be very profound indeed. Those are very challenging.

What Can Hybrid-Remote Workplaces Do to Support Mental Health and Well-Being?

What can hybrid-remote workplaces do to support mental health and well-being, so that point of burnout, and obviously more serious mental health difficulties are less likely to be experienced by your group of employees? Most importantly, is that organizations need to absolutely have a shift from a symptoms-only approach to a causes-also approach. What this basically means is we can't just focus on the symptoms that you might witness in a workplace and obviously outside of a workplace as well. Preventing burnout and preventing mental health difficulties is complex. It requires the shift from symptoms-only to cause. It's critical in understanding what employees need in that hybrid-remote setting. That there are many areas of the self-help world that are really beneficial, and mindfulness apps, brilliant, yoga classes, brilliant. Unfortunately, in isolation, those areas, on their own, those are not going to work if an individual was offered some great mindfulness apps and some opportunities to engage in exercise classes, yoga at work, or supported outside of work through free gym membership, whatever it is. If the system the individual is employed in has not thought about mental health and well-being and how best people work together, then those are just not going to have any effect at all. The solution is very much a systems-based approach using holistic tools, holistic frameworks that focus on every level of the organization.

Firstly, a start to thinking about that causes-only approach is to understand what intrinsic factors can cause stress at work. When psychologists talk about stress and pressure at work, we often refer to the job demands and resources model. There are key areas, key extrinsic factors which are called job demands, which we know have a significant impact on the likelihood of whether an individual is going to experience pressure stress at work. I just want to go through each of those five job demand areas, those five extrinsic factors. As I'm talking through them, I want you to think about that in the context of a hybrid-remote workplace.

What Are The Job Demands?

Factors intrinsic to the job. This is a key potential demand on individuals. If they have a poor physical environment. I'm very fortunate I have my own office at home. I do have disruptions, and I still have people disturbing me when I'm having meetings and trying to record presentation talks. Ultimately, I have ergonomic furniture. I have a space that's clearly boundaried. There's been support from my employer for that. Physical work environment, how much has that been thought through? Work overload, time pressure, under-resourced teams, and jobs that have physical danger, these are all potential demands. The role in the organization, how much autonomy an individual has. Is there a lot of ambiguity and conflict? What is the responsibility for other people? What is the conflict with the organizational boundaries? How we manage these things in a hybrid-remote setting as compared to a physical location needs to be thought about, and systems and processes and ways of working need to be considered with regards to that. Career development. Again, this is applicable for all types of workplaces, not just hybrid and remote. How is recognition offered? Are there opportunities for managers to be offering feedback, offering recognition? How are promotions worked through and ambition achieved? Relationships at work, how are they supported and developed? How are they encouraged? What are those relationship opportunities like within the hybrid-remote setting? How easy is it to delegate? Organizational structure and climate. This relates to, if an individual has little or no participation in decision making, they have budget restrictions, which prevents them from being able to work in a way that they need to. They feel that they don't have consultation. They feel a misalignment with values. These all create really quite significant demands on the individual.

As part of this model, then we look at, what are the resources available to the individual? What's going to help mitigate those potential demands, again, thinking about the hybrid-remote workplace? These relate to what I've just been talking about. What are the available resources to you? What is the depth of the relationships that you have with your colleagues? What level of psychological safety is there? What level of candid conversations can people have with each other? What's the opportunity to actually get to know the people that you're working alongside. Decision making, feedback, autonomy, development opportunities, leader support, recognition, meaningful work, role clarity, these factors would all moderate those job demands. How we do that hybrid-remote setting is something that's really important to consider if we are going to ensure a healthy workplace. Individual psychological moderators, so these are factors that we have with individuals that might moderate how we manage those demands also. We have the system, but we also need to factor in the individual. Level of emotional stability, personality traits, how well developed someone's coping strategies are. Tolerance for ambiguity and openness to change might be two areas of a personality profile that actually are really important to consider in terms of if it's a fully remote organization.

The Big Five Factor Model of Personality

Just thinking about personality, I just got this model here. This is the big five factor model of personality. If we take the example of the extroversion-introversion scale, then somebody clearly who is extrovert enjoys and seeks the company of others, likes an opportunity to develop relationships and get to know people and feel energized from that. How they manage a remote setting is absolutely key. We'll all adapt and develop strategies depending on what our personality traits are to the situation we're in. Does this system also allow people the flexibility to adapt and have opportunity to create what they need within their environment? Similarly, the introvert individual who's working in a remote setting, who's then requested to go on a four-weeks intense off-site, how much flexibility are they being offered within that scenario? Extroverted people are likely to feel deprived of that social energy, if their social interactions at work become nothing more than a 20-second how are you Zoom call. Similarly, an introverted person can get deprived of that me time that they need in order to recharge, if they're constantly attending those back-to-back Zoom calls, not having that chance to be alone with that call. How can individuals adapt and tailor what they need in order to suit the personality traits? How much flexibility does the system give them to do that, also needs to be factored into account.

Psychological Safety, and Creating Connections

Just going back to the workplace of the future that I mentioned at the start of this talk, here's one of the quotes from that article, "The office of the future will be an experimental place, where making mistakes is reframed, a sign that humans are continuing to experiment and create innovations in technology and society." This is that psychological safety piece where taking interpersonal risks is ok, having appropriate but candid conversations, trusting that you can express safely your views on what's happening in work and with others in a respectful way, but being able to express those views. This is critical to the workplace of the future and how easy it is to hybrid-remote workplace, and how we interact within it allow us to maintain that psychological safe workplace. Another area that the article I talked about at the start of this talk mentioned was the sense of belonging and creating connections will be absolutely critical. "Office culture will be highly social and interactive to compensate for the isolation that people may work in when they're working remotely." If there is no office space, when it's not hybrid, how does a workplace support that creation of opportunities for that sense of belonging?

How Container Solutions Created a Culture of Collective Resilience

I just wanted to talk through some of the ways in which I've worked with Container Solutions to help create a culture of collective resilience. It's in the context of the job demands module that I've just talked about. High quality relationships. Firstly, we hire very well. We're very structured in terms of our criteria. We spend a lot of time with hiring managers on preparing for that process. We do still have physical offices, and we have more in-person off-sites. We try and hire around those hubs as well so that people can work in that hybrid. We have some people that go into the office still every day, because that's what they need, and that's what they want to do. We still have people who work fully remote, that they have the opportunity to go to the off-sites. We've had a social committee that plan events and activities, which are optional. We have coaching that we offer. We've tried to move away from just one-to-one for also group coaching, to try and develop those relationships and have that sense of belonging and support people in groups. We also really encourage peer coaching to keep continuing developing those relationships. I think we onboard very well with onboarding scheme, and regular opportunities to meet people around the business with such tools like Slack Donut, to encourage people to reach out.

Decision making. We do regular pulse checks. We have regular engagement surveys. We try and use the retro approach and have constant iterations on processes with key stakeholders. We have regular communication from the board and the executive team with regards to what a psychologically safe culture actually looks like in terms of behaviors. As much as possible, regular communication about what is happening with the business. Feedback and role clarity is really important. Firstly, feedback, having that culture of that 360-feedback approach, which we've even factored into our performance management system where we specifically ask individuals, once they've gone through their biannual reviews. They also meet one-to-ones every two weeks that they feed upwards as well. Like I said, performance management and group coaching. As I said, surveys and pulse checks, really important. Autonomy and job control. We've incorporated the meeting-free Wednesdays, which can be difficult, where we are a consultancy, and we do have clients. As much as possible to just try and either reduce meetings or have no meetings on-screen on that day. One of our values is trust. We talk a lot about psychological safety, and what that means. Hopefully, that then leads to conversations about how people can work with their manager to look at aspects of the role that maybe are not working as effectively as we would have hoped originally. There's clear channels to promotion based on performance. We offer professional coaching individually within teams and within project teams.

We're working this year on more development opportunities. We do have systems in place, such as career ladders, and performance management, but we've also introduced individual learning and development budgets. We've tried to have some in-person workshops such as avoiding burnout. All of our managers have the opportunity to become Mental Health First Aiders. We offer that training. We're currently looking at developing portfolios of accessible online internal learning resources. Leader support is absolutely critical. Everything we do in terms of these areas, we absolutely try and get the leadership buy-in, so we try and have a very clear communication from the board and the executive team in terms of their support for such things as the Mental Health First Aider, our employee assistance programs. We write blogs. The language that we talk about is incorporated in such things as our competency framework as well. Recognition for meaningful work, so as well as things like our pulse checks, and talking about the importance of feeding back to each other regularly, not just managers to their team, but everybody within the business. We've also really worked hard on having a detailed and clear promotion process, opportunity to access promotion.

Key Takeaway

If there's anything that I would like you to take away from this talk is that organizations need a shift from a symptoms-only approach to a causes-also approach, thinking about what the demands are on an individual and group and organization that can lead to such things as burnout. Those are the symptoms that I talked about. How to factor and incorporate those areas in to a hybrid and remote setting.


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Recorded at:

Jan 05, 2024