The International SOS Foundation is an independent, not-for-profit organisation dedicated to improving the health, safety and security of global workforces. Affinity Health at Work is a research-based consultancy focused on workplace health and wellbeing.
This project was part of ongoing work between International SOS and Affinity to develop research-based insights and guidance on managing geographically dispersed or remote workers. Previously they had looked at business travellers, and ‘remote rotational’ or ‘fly-in, fly-out’ (FIFO) workers (for example, those working on oil rigs and at mines). Building on this, they now turned their attention to an issue that a number of International SOS’s clients were raising: employers’ duty of care for the wellbeing of hybrid workers.
This case study demonstrates how evidence gathered was used to develop an understanding of the expectations and support needed among employees with different work patterns or locations, in particular within global organisations. The main questions were:
- how can hybrid working be managed in a way that supports employee wellbeing?
- how do wellbeing and expectations on duty of care differ in hybrid workforces compared with on-site workers?
- what support should employers provide to hybrid workers?
- Stakeholder views: an international survey of over 1,000 employees with various working patterns and locations, including remote, on-site and hybrid working; in addition, roundtable discussions with HR directors of International SOS clients.
- Organisational data: interviews in six client organisations with HR professionals responsible for setting policies and practices to support different working patterns.
- Scientific literature: a systematic evidence review of academic literature and ‘grey’ (non-academic research) literature on how working patterns and locations (including hybrid working) are related to wellbeing (117 studies were selected for inclusion).
- Professional expertise: Affinity’s internal professional expertise in workplace wellbeing, discussions with experts from KPMG, and roundtable discussions with International SOS experts (client handlers, sales people and project leads).
The survey found that the strongest predictor for poor wellbeing was working hours and work pressure, regardless of hybrid working pattern. In itself, the hybrid working pattern (completely remote, completely on-site, or hybrid) made no difference in the range of outcomes of interest: burnout, loneliness, stress, performance, engagement, and so on. However, the flexibility to choose one’s work location (or have a degree of choice) was the most important thing for employees surveyed and the strongest contributor to wellbeing outcomes.
The findings have directly contributed to how International SOS advises clients on wellbeing. It now highlights the importance of focusing on providing good working conditions to all workers, regardless of working pattern, and recognising the need for individual consideration and co-creation for positive outcomes.
At the time of writing, the findings were being disseminated to International SOS member organisations through webinars and a report.
Rachel Lewis, Managing Partner at Affinity Health at Work, highlighted the value of blending the different sources of evidence, commenting:
“Sometimes I’m a bit cynical that the [label] ‘evidence-based practice’... can be used as a way to say academic data is the best... The big advantage of [the evidence-based practice approach of drawing on different sources of evidence] is that it gives us that nuance. It’s allowed us to ask questions that are really relevant and... organisational-led, that we would never have been able to do, if we’d just had the academic or even the practice data.”
Having applied an evidence-based approach for a number of years, her experience was that many stakeholders were initially unsure whether it was worthwhile, but eventually saw the value:
“There is sometimes some pushback about the length of time it would take us to answer questions, but we just don’t work in any other way... For instance, we produced a report for a client last week, and the client said that it was the most insightful data they’d ever had... [In addition], that methodology means that their report feels like their report: it’s owned by them, it’s in their voice, it feels relevant to them and therefore they’re more like to accept it.”
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