The impact of stress and remote work on client-agency team performance

Stress levels among employees have increased since the Covid era.

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2023 report, although the world has recovered from the worst of the pandemic, employee stress remained at a record-high level.

What is stressing out employees?

Gallup records stress based on responses to the question “Did you experience stress a lot of the day yesterday?” In the latest results, forty-four percent of employees said they experienced a lot of stress the previous day, repeating the record high in 2021 and continuing a trend of elevated stress that began almost a decade earlier.

Let’s keep in mind that work is not the sole culprit of stress. Everyday-life factors like inflation, family and health issues can also be sources of daily stress.

While leaders and managers can’t influence external sources of stress, they can make a difference in overall stress in workers’ lives. One of the keys is ‘engagement’.

The engagement metric
State of the global workplace

Involvement and enthusiasm of employees in both their work and workplace is what defines their engagement. The Gallup analysis finds that when employees are engaged at work, they report significantly lower stress in their lives.

Twenty-three percent of the world’s employees were engaged at work in 2022, the highest level since Gallup began measuring global engagement in 2009 . Engagement declined in mid pandemic but has now returned to its historically positive trend.

Increasing engagement is good news for employees, because it implies they are thriving at work and finding their daily work more rewarding.

“Engaged employees find their work meaningful and feel connected to the team and their organization. They feel proud of the work they do and take ownership of their performance, going the extra mile for teammates and customers.”

When staff are not engaged

Gallup describes the other, less desirable states of work in two categories;

  1. Not engaged – (quiet quitters): These employees are filling a seat and watching the clock. They put in the minimum effort required, and they are psychologically disconnected from their employer. Although they are minimally productive, they are more likely to be stressed and burnt out than engaged workers because they feel lost and disconnected from their workplace.
  2. Actively disengaged – (loud quitting): These employees take actions that directly harm the organization, undercutting its goals and opposing its leaders. At some point along the way, the trust between employee and employer was severely broken. Or the employee has been woefully mismatched to a role, causing constant crises.

Leadership and management directly influence workplace engagement, and there is much that organizations can do to help their employees thrive at work.

The link between engagement and stress

Actively disengaged workers tend to experience significantly higher stress levels compared to engaged employees. While this correlation varies across countries, the percentage of workers who felt a lot of stress the previous day was about twice as much for those who were actively disengaged as engaged workers.

Notably, remote and hybrid workers, despite reporting higher engagement, are more likely to experience high levels of stress than their fully onsite counterparts. This indicates that stress among remote and hybrid employees may be attributed to factors beyond the work environment.

How to energise the ‘quiet quitters’

Quiet quitting employees are an organization’s low-hanging fruit for productivity gains. They are ready to be inspired and motivated.

Eighty-five percent of the responses offered by those considered to be quieting quitting fell into three broad categories;

  • Culture & communication 41%
  • Pay & benefits 28%
  • Wellbeing 16%

Managers are usually confined to operate within their company guidelines when it comes to pay and benefits so their direct influence in this area is difficult. Likewise they may face company restrictions around the area of wellbeing as this encompasses issues such as the office/remote work balance, longer breaks, establishing a health clinic etc.

But culture and communication are arguably the lowest of the low-hanging fruit for managers to tackle. Here’s what the Gallup survey responses answered to the question; ‘What would you change about your workplace to make it better?’

  • For everyone to get recognised for their contributions
  • I would like it if the managers were more approachable, and we could talk openly
  • They should grant more autonomy in the work to stimulate everyone’s creativity
  • I would like to learn more things, but the work I do is quite repetitive
  • I just wish they respected me more
  • Giving everyone a fair chance in getting promoted
  • Clearer goals and stronger guidance
Engagement vs remote work

Gallup’s findings indicate that employee engagement has a more significant influence on reducing stress levels than the physical location of work. This highlights the responsibility of management in creating a positive work environment. Managers should prioritize strengths-based meaningful conversations, ensuring regular communication and support for each team member. Remote work can sometimes lead to employees feeling distant from their employers, which may increase the likelihood of seeking alternative opportunities.

The rise of remote work has reshaped the dynamics of client-agency teams, our analysis of the frequency of contact between client-agency teams we arrived at four recommendations to improve communications in the new world of hybrid and remote work and understand what is effective and what is detrimental to the overall relationship.

Remote work has introducing both advantages and challenges. As we navigate the aftermath of the pandemic, it is crucial to understand the implications of remote work on team performance.