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Hybrid Work Benefits Employees, But Officism is Increasing

When the pandemic forced businesses to transition to remote work two years ago, no one really knew what to expect, how long it would last, or how it would impact the future of work. We now know it has significantly changed the way people view their jobs, how they prioritize work-life balance, and the expectations they have of their employer. Yet with this shift, a new workplace bias has also emerged – officism – and it presents a significant negative impact to the employee experience. 

Unfortunately, officism (negative attitudes toward employees who work remotely by those working in an office or another physical location) is only getting worse – particularly from managers. Although more people are being asked to return to the office, at least part of the time, there is also a large population of employees who are not going back – either because organizations have realized they can be as productive from home or employees are refusing, saying they will find a new job if they are forced back to an office environment.

Mixed Perceptions from Managers and Employees 

Our January panel research of more than 1,400 working Americans found that half of the respondents would prefer to work in an all-remote or hybrid environment, and those who are already working a more flexible schedule want it to stay that way. 

Interestingly, while employees are transparent about wanting a virtual or hybrid work environment, managers and executive leaders are not on the same page. This population reports having the highest levels of officism, even more so today than when we first started tracking this trend last summer. Executive leaders are five times as likely and managers are three times as likely to believe remote workers are less productive than their in-office counterparts. However, employees who work with the most flexibility (in terms of location and hours), report an increase in productivity year-on-year, and they directly attribute that increase to their ability to choose when and where they work. This percentage – nearly 7 in 10 – is 30% higher than in-person workers. 

Unfortunately, manager and leader sentiment is not aligned to employees’ beliefs about their output. The saying, “perception is reality” comes to mind, and the perception by people leaders that employees aren’t able to be as productive remotely is hurting employees’ career prospects. Officism bias could be directly impacting remote workers when it comes to promotions, compensation increases, performance reviews, and more – and worse, they may not even be aware it’s happening.  

One reason for the disconnect between managers and workers is that managers are struggling to track and monitor productivity for remote employees. In our panel research, 70% of respondents who have some level of supervisory responsibility say they find it more difficult to gauge virtual worker productivity

However, perhaps, we need to think of this as more of a manager deficiency rather than an employee problem. In this new world of work, people leaders need to learn new skills when it comes to managing people whom they don’t see or interact with on a daily basis. 

Those with supervisory responsibility are also concerned about maintaining relationships when employees aren’t physically together in the workplace. This concern is not unfounded, and is the one area of officism with the most agreement among all levels within the organization. However, our data indicates that it’s not just where a person sits that improves relationships, but the types of interactions they have. The pandemic has about a third of employees feeling disconnected from their coworkers, but that number is quite similar regardless of the amount of time spent in the office. In fact, of the three types of employees (in-person, remote, or hybrid), hybrid employees seem to have cracked the code, with more than half saying their relationships with coworkers and managers are stronger than they were last year. This is in contrast to less than 4 in 10 for either of the other two groups.

To better deal with officism, organizations can nip it in the bud by training managers to set clear expectations and objectively measure the outcomes of their employees’ effort, without overseeing every phase of a task or project. Managers also need additional training in creating purposeful interactions between employees that will ensure the working relationships remain strong. Hint: that’s not just more meetings, but instead, more quality meetings. Additionally, if organizations begin keeping track of development opportunities, performance ratings, and promotions based on the physical location of their employees, they can quickly identify and remedy issues of officism as they occur. 

Don’t Let Officism Damage the Employee Experience

Because of the disparity between leaders and employees, the conditions exist for officism to negatively impact employee engagement, employee career prospects, and the overall employee experience. Strong feelings of resentment from one group of workers toward another is a detriment to company culture. It has a harmful business effect too – research has found disengaged employees are less productive and ultimately hurt the bottom line. 

Organizations need to understand employee and manager sentiment about return-to-office policies, work-life balance, remote work opportunities, and how all of it is affecting their well-being, their engagement, and their future within the organization. This can be done with a thorough employee listening program that includes surveys throughout an employee’s lifecycle, such as onboarding, exit, return-to-office, and other moments that matter. By listening to and acting on their feedback, your company can respond appropriately, and devise policies that work for most people.

At Perceptyx, we help our clients design, launch, analyze and act on employee survey results. Collaboratively, we identify and remove barriers from culture, technology, and workspace perspectives that are hindering employee engagement and productivity. 

To find out “Why Hybrid Work is the Winning Model for Healthy Employees and a Healthier Organization,” download our latest report.

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