Exhausted Workers Want More Flexibility, Study Says

It's been a long day!

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Tired, overworked, exhausted—these are words employees use to describe themselves after a year working remotely amid the pandemic, according to a new study that issues a warning as workplaces adapt to a hybrid world.

A majority of single people (67%), new employees (64%), frontline workers (61%), Gen Z workers (60%), working moms (56%), and married people (54%) said they are struggling or merely surviving in their jobs, according to a survey of over 30,000 full-time and self-employed workers as part of the 2021 Work Trend Index released by Microsoft Monday. Just more than half (54%) said they feel overworked, while 39% said they’re exhausted, and 20% said their employer doesn’t care about their work-life balance.

The pandemic obviously has changed the way we work, and the study shows what we’ve all felt: We’re spending more time in meetings, on calls or chat, and sending emails. A lot of this communication isn’t planned, with 62% of calls and meetings being unscheduled, leaving workers stressed as they try to keep up. In spite of the added pressure, 50% of people said they still respond to chat messages within five minutes or less, the same as before the pandemic.

“This proves the intensity of our workday, and that what is expected of employees during this time, has increased significantly,” the study said.

Still, remote work has boosted feelings of inclusion at the workplace, and 70% of employees said they want flexible remote work options to continue, showing that a paradox has developed in the last year, with employees struggling amid current working conditions yet eager to retain the flexibility remote work provides. 

Younger workers are particularly struggling, with Gen Z (ages 18-25) more likely to have trouble balancing work with life and to feel exhausted after a typical day of work than older generations. Members of Gen Z also said they find it hard to feel excited about work, get a word in during meetings, or bring new ideas to the table.

All this unhappiness may foreshadow a mass migration for workers both in jobs and in location. Microsoft’s research shows that 41% of the global workforce is likely to consider leaving their current employer within the next year and the survey reports that 46% of respondents said they’re planning to move because they’re able to work remotely.

The takeaway for employers: Workplaces must create a new environment that allows extreme flexibility, combats exhaustion by reducing workloads and encouraging breaks, and prioritizes rebuilding social culture, among other things.