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Young people and low-income workers risk being left behind by hybrid working, new research finds

Hybrid working could be harming the prospects of young and low-salaried workers, according to new research. 

A recent survey of UK workers by the University of Nottingham commissioned by The Access Group has revealed stark differences between how people felt about their work.

Overall, while 59 per cent of Brits said they’re happy at work, 41 per cent reported feeling unhappy and depressed. Over half also reported feeling ‘worthless’. 

Interviews with employees laid bare some of the pros and cons of hybrid working – with some seeing improvements in their mental health, while others find it more difficult to switch off at home compared to the office. 

The researchers also uncovered markedly lower levels of wellbeing and engagement and perceptions around job performance among early career workers in a hybrid setting, compared to those in other age groups.

The youngest respondents reported lower levels of wellbeing than in any age category. Under-20s ranked 9.7 per cent lower for wellbeing than those aged 21-30, and 10 per cent lower than people in the 31-40 and 41-50 brackets, according to the researchers’ scale.

Workplace engagement among the under-20s was also 17 per cent lower than in the 21-30 age bracket; 18 per cent lower than the 31-40 and 41-50 age brackets; and 22 per cent lower than those between 51 and 60. Under-20s also had a lower perception of job performance compared to colleagues aged 31-40, and 51-60, at 11 per cent and 12 per cent respectively.

The survey showed that low income employees are also more likely to be excluded from splitting their time between home and the office. Just a fifth of hybrid workers earn less than £30,000 per year, compared to 39 per cent of those who are required to be on site. 

Dr Luis Torres, Assistant Professor in Organisational Behaviour, Business and Society at the Nottingham University Business School, commented:

“This study has revealed a very mixed picture for hybrid working, where some groups of workers are thriving and are able to create a good life-work balance, while others are feeling disadvantaged.

“Hybrid working has a great potential for business, workers, and the environment by reducing commuting time, costs, and carbon emissions. However, some workers are feeling more isolated and worry about their career progression. To realise the benefits of hybrid working, businesses need to address these concerns by creating working environments where people can socialise despite the distance and by clearly communicating promotion criteria.

“We are happy to have contributed to this important and useful research with The Access Group.”

 Dr Phil Parker PhD, an independent health and happiness expert, believes that hybrid working has brought unexpected benefits to employees – but it can also create divisions and leave people feeling isolated. 

Commenting on the researchers’ findings, he said: 

“Human connection is vital, not just for everyone’s mental and physical health, but for business success too.

“In the past, the workplace provided an opportunity to meet and connect with others, and there’s a risk that this has been lost as more people work remotely. 

“With increasing isolation in modern society, a good hybrid working model makes it easy to build strong working relationships.”

The survey also highlighted the importance of technology in supporting employees – with 64 per cent saying it helped with productivity, and 62 per cent saying it gives them control over their work schedule. 

Claire Scott, Chief Employee Success Officer at The Access Group, said: “Hybrid working has brought many unexpected benefits but it’s still in its infancy and some companies haven’t yet developed clear policies around it. We commissioned this study because we wanted to understand how it’s impacting different groups within the workforce.

“The fact that more than two-fifths of the people surveyed in different workplaces across the country said how unhappy they felt is concerning. No organisation can thrive if certain groups struggle to work effectively at home, or they feel excluded from the benefits of hybrid working.

“Our survey showed that young people in hybrid settings are suffering from lower levels of engagement, wellbeing and perceptions around job performance – which may be because they don’t have a suitable home working environment, feel socially isolated or are missing out on informal learning opportunities they’d get in the office. This is one reason why the younger staff in our Early Careers programmes are office-based, so they can learn from, and be supported by, their colleagues.”

She added: 

"Technology is key to improving employee experiences for everyone, regardless of where they’re working. It enables them to communicate with colleagues, access information, including learning materials, and get tasks done quicker so they feel valued and satisfied at work.”

Read the full results of the study here.