Getting Employee Buy-in on Your Hybrid Work Policies
The Spring 2022 Future Forum Pulse found several trends among workers returning to the office.
Notably, 34% of workers who are back in the office full-time are reporting the highest levels of work-related stress and anxiety since surveys began in the summer of 2020.
Those more likely to experience stress were non-executive employees — who were also twice as likely to have returned to the office five days a week.
According to the research, stress levels are higher among those with little to no ability to set their work hours. Those with limited flexibility, the study found, are 2.6 times more likely to seek new employment within a year.
Respecting Boundaries and Supporting Employees
One of the solutions to work-related stress is offering hybrid working schedules, where employees can work some time in the office and some time at home or another remote location.
Easily said, but for these working schedules to be effective, managers and employees must agree on a path that works for everyone.
"Leaders need to model their policies and use workplace tools in a way that respects boundaries and supports employees," said Slack's senior director of product management, Olivia Grace.
Slack uses several tools to create a better environment for all, and one of them is software that allows for asynchronous work through scheduled communications. With this tool, a message can be created at any time but specified to be sent only at a specific time or on a specific day — ideally, when that person is expected back at work. This feature allows employees to disconnect and prevents them from feeling like they have to work outside of their regular hours just because others are.
Another similar tool that Slack uses is software that blocks messages from being received by others using a Do Not Disturb feature, lovingly known by Grace as DND. The concept is similar, except the recipient is the one who sets the DND so messages are not received until they are back at work.
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Depending on the workplace, it is recommended for managers to set expectations with regard to availability. Employees, for instance, may not be expected to work over the weekend but may nevertheless be expected to respond to urgent messages received during that time. In such cases, the DND feature would not be permitted.
It's critical that beyond the tools, managers communicate expectations early on, Dee Anthony, director and digital transformation advisor at ISG, said.
While controversial, there are tracking and nudging tools that can be very helpful for managers to monitor employees' performance, Anthony said. Some help measure time spent on a task, output and attendance, for instance.
Meanwhile, abuse of monitoring is real, so it's important for managers to not infringe on personal rights and learn to trust employees — and employees need to feel they are being trusted. A lack of trust or transparency can produce the opposite outcome by demotivating employees and reducing productivity to the point of increasing quit rates and turnover.
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Is It Too Late for the Hybrid Work Policies Conversation?
Grace says employers need to have conversations with hybrid workers early on to avoid bad habits from setting in. These, she said, can sometimes be hard to break.
But Anthony says after three years of remote work, organizations are way past the point of discussion and behaviors have already been set in place — and routines established.
However, he said, this doesn't mean there is no path forward. Managers who need to course-correct bad habits can still sit down with employees to assess current processes and find ways to reconcile expectations. This negotiation should have the sole objective to come to better terms with employees and improve the working environment's effectiveness — one where both parties are happy.
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What Happens When Hybrid Workers Don't Follow Policies
Of course, some hybrid workers may choose not to follow the rules. Grace said if this happens, the best policy is to speak to those concerned and try to understand why. Is there a conflict between the person's personal responsibilities and the work schedule established? Do other factors prevent this employee from being present at certain times or on certain days?
Sometimes, these can be temporary problems, like an employee experiencing grief, burnout or even a lapse in daycare support. Getting to the root of the issue respectfully can help the employee feel heard and improve the chances of finding a resolution.
Beyond these conversations, managers also need to consider the options, Anthony said. What actions is the company prepared to take for employees who don't follow the rules? What is the extent of the damage, if any, caused by the employee's disregard for the policy?
He suggests that managers ask questions like:
- Did the employee's actions reduce the effectiveness of the rest of the team?
- Did the employee not complete their tasks or prevent others from not completing their tasks?
If the employee has caused no major problem, then managers should discuss the situation with the employee. There may be a way to remedy the situation and improve the relationship between the managers and the employees.
About the Author
Kaya Ismail is a business software journalist and commentator with years of experience in the CMS industry.