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Remote Workers Struggle with Work-Life Boundaries, but is a Return to the Workplace the Answer?

For many, the shift to remote work during the pandemic offered increased flexibility and work-life balance. But a new survey reveals that 47 percent of remote workers in the US are concerned about the blurred boundaries between their jobs and personal lives.

Respondents of The Conference Board survey reported that, during the pandemic—when most office workers were remote—their hours worked and burnout increased. At the same time, however, they reported their engagement/morale, mental health, and the number of vacation and sick days they used all decreased.

Two years, and many hours of remote work later, more than 80 percent are now comfortable returning to the workplace, the survey reveals. What’s more, nearly three quarters of workers agree with their employers that returning will improve relationships, collaboration, and culture.

But a return to the workplace may not necessarily solve the problem of longer hours and more stress—especially for women, Millennials, and individual contributors. The survey also found that the reported deterioration of mental health and well-being, the cost of commuting, and exposure to COVID-19 are of greater to concern to these groups than their counterparts when working in the physical workplace.

The latest workforce survey from The Conference Board captured the thoughts of more than 1,300 individuals—predominantly professional/office workers—from March 14-18. Respondents weighed in on the topics of workplace culture, management, remote work, and more.

Key findings include:

The boundaries get blurrier: The integration of work and personal life increased during the pandemic.

  • 58 percent say their work-life integration increased during the pandemic.

The top concerns of fully remote workers: limited connection with colleagues and blurred work-life boundaries.

  • Among those working 100% remotely, limited connection with colleagues is a top concern for more than half (51 percent).
  • Nearly half (47 percent) are concerned about blurred work-life boundaries (i.e., difficulty unplugging from work and being always “on”).
  • One-third (34 percent) worry about the constant expectation to be “on” or available.
  • 32 percent are concerned about increased work hours or workload.

Hybrid workers share the same concerns as remote and on-site workers.

  • 41 percent are concerned with blurred work-life boundaries.
  • 39 percent worry about limited connection with colleagues.
  • 31 percent are concerned with the increased time and cost of commuting.

Burning the midnight oil: More than half of employees surveyed report working more hours during the pandemic.

  • Hours worked increased: 53 percent report an increase in hours worked
  • Number of vacation days decreased: 37 percent

Self-reported mental health, worker engagement, and burnout all took a turn for the worse.

  • Mental health decreased: 41 percent
  • Burnout increased: 41 percent
  • Engagement/morale decreased: 38 percent

“More than half of the workers The Conference Board surveyed say that their work and personal lives have become more intertwined. While remote work surely provides a desirable work-life balance for many, these results suggest that the lack of clear boundaries in many remote work arrangements can fuel stress and burnout,” said Rebecca Ray, Executive Vice President, Human Capital, The Conference Board. “Rather than assuming a return to the office will be the panacea, HR leaders can also be proactive in helping to set and maintain more definitive work boundaries in this new world of work.”

Workers are warming up to the idea of returning to the workplace.

  • 82 percent expressed comfort returning to the physical workplace.
    • That’s an increase from 71 percent in January 2022.
  • 10 percent are still uncomfortable returning.

Workers and employers agree that returning to the physical workplace will build relationships, collaboration, and culture.

  • 74 percent agree with their organization that returning to the physical workplace will enhance networking opportunities and build relationships.
  • 72 percent agree it will increase collaboration.
  • 70 percent agree that it will help maintain culture.

To varying degrees, leadership behaviors improved during the pandemic.

  • More than half (55 percent) report that genuine caring by managers for their employees improved.
  • Nearly half (46 percent) say their organization’s articulation of mission and purpose improved.
  • While nearly half (46 percent) said the overall quality of leadership improved, close to one quarter (23 percent) say it worsened.
    • Individual contributors think the quality of leadership during the pandemic worsened at more than two times the rate of CEOs. (28 percent versus 12 percent).
  • The level of trust between leaders and employees worsened more than any other category, at 28 percent.

Women, Millennials, and lower-level employees working in person full time have greater concerns than their counterparts.

  • Mental health and well-being concerns: Only 14 percent of those in the physical workplace are worried about the deterioration of mental health and well-being, compared to 23 percent of remote workers.
    • Seniority: But 29 percent of individual contributors working on site are concerned about mental health and well-being. That’s compared to 13 percent of Vice Presidents and 0 percent of CEOs.  
    • Generation: Millennials in the physical workplace are more concerned about well-being than other generations (47 percent compared to 12 percent of Gen X and 11 percent of Baby Boomers).
    • Gender: Women working in person are worried about well-being at more than two times the rate of men (20 percent versus 8 percent).
  • Concerns over the cost of commuting: 33 percent of those in the physical workplace were concerned about the increased time and cost to commute.
    • Seniority: Half of individual contributors working on site are concerned about the commute, compared to 10 percent of CEOs.
    • Generation: 59 percent of Millennials in the workplace are concerned about the commute, compared to 31 percent of Gen X and 30 percent of Baby Boomers.
    • Gender: 43 percent of women working in person are worried about the cost of commuting, compared to 25 percent of men.             
  • COVID-19 concerns: 26 percent of those working in the office are still concerned about exposure to COVID-19.
    • Seniority: Individual contributors in a physical workplace worry about COVID-19 exposure at two times the rate of CEOs (41 percent versus 20 percent).
    • Generation: Millennials are more concerned about COVID-19 than other generations (35 percent compared to 19 percent of Gen X and 31 percent of Baby Boomers).
    • Gender: More women are worried about COVID-19 exposure than men (30 percent versus 21 percent).

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Hanna Heller

Hanna is the entertainment and lifestyle editor for CDN. Fan of great movies, legendary music, outdoor activities and cool stuff in general, her opinions, as expressed in her articles, are her own and not necessarily shared by anyone .. anywhere .. ever. Follow Hanna on Twitter: @Hanna_CDN

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