Hybrid work is burning women out

Hybrid work, ad hoc rest.
Hybrid work, ad hoc rest.
Image: Reuters/Kevin Coombs
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Workplaces, which had to adapt rapidly in the pandemic, aren’t doing enough to help women navigate the ongoing problems they face at work, according to a new report from Deloitte. The survey of 5,000 women globally suggests that hybrid work—which in theory should solve some of women’s big problems—is actually making things worse.

Many women have long asked for more flexibility when it comes to things like working hours and location, since working a full day in a company office or onsite can often make other responsibilities—like picking up children or caring for elderly parents, both of which tend to fall on women more than on men—prohibitively expensive, and exhausting.

But the ad hoc approach of hybrid work has made things harder for some people, said Emma Codd, the global inclusion leader at Deloitte.

Hybrid work has in some cases led to a level of uncertainty—like where a person will work from on any given day of the week, or exactly when they’re expected to be available—that’s adding to stress, Codd said. “For caregivers, one of the things people want is predictability,” Codd said. “While employers have really sought to bring in this new [hybrid] model, for some [women] the lack of predictability is not working.”

Hybrid causes other problems too, in some cases exacerbating existing patterns of women struggling to advance as quickly, or as far, as their male counterparts. Almost 60% of the women surveyed said they had felt excluded from important meetings while working in a hybrid environment, and about half said they now lacked exposure to senior leaders.

Woman, interrupted

The survey also found that microaggressions were not only extremely common, and on the rise, but very unlikely to ever be reported. While only 14% of women said they had experienced harassment at work, half said they had experienced microaggressions—things like being talked over, patronized, interrupted, or subjected to inappropriate comments on video calls. The number of women who said they had experienced either harassment or microaggressions at work was up by 50% year-on-year, Deloitte’s report said. It also noted that a massive 93% of women believed reporting “non-inclusive” behaviors would dent their career prospects, and the same number thought management would fail to take any such report seriously.

The cumulative effect is that women feel more burned out now in the US than at the height of covid restrictions and school closures.

“The data that we have this year shows significant levels of burnout” among women, worse even than last year said Codd. The consultancy started the survey just before the pandemic struck back in 2020 to try and get a read on women’s real experience of the workplace, she said, but it quickly morphed into a look at how workplace changes brought about by the pandemic were affecting them.

Companies might well have scrambled to put something in place that worked for a while, but Deloitte’s data suggests that many of the solutions we’ve hit on so far need rethinking before the “new normal” becomes even more problematic for gender equity than the system it replaced.