Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, most organizations transitioned their workforces to full-time remote. While most employers handled this transition well, many have not, according to a global survey by Peakon, an employee success platform.
The survey, “How Employees and Organisations are Responding to COVID-19,” revealed 19% of the nearly 500,000 employees surveyed feel their productivity and workload is being misunderstood by their employers. Respondents noted a pressure to work harder and longer hours.
While employees appear to approve of measures taken by their employer to protect their physical health during the pandemic, many are still looking for greater understanding and support around their mental health. Of the employees who criticized their employer's response to productivity, 12% explicitly mention health and mental health issues.
Respondents spoke of companies being “out of touch” with the stress and anxiety employees are currently feeling as they attempt to work during a crisis. Others were keen for their employers to understand that — far from being a prolonged vacation — this extended period of working from home represents a violent change, impacting many parts of their lives.
The surveyed revealed that terms like “pulling weight” and not “slacking” were frequently used by employers. This might suggest a lack of trust among some managers, and employees feeling they need to demonstrate how much they are working.
“Business leaders and managers should also be cognizant of the pressure some workers are feeling now to work harder and produce even more in a bid to prove their worth, concerned about their job security,” said Phil Chambers, CEO and co-founder of Peakon. “Remote working is not going away anytime soon, especially as many organizations are taking a phased approach to getting people back into the workplace. But monitoring employees' productivity is not the answer. It will only compromise the trust employees have in their employer.”
Nearly one in ten (8%) critical respondents raised concerns linked to family obligations and their position as primary caregivers. A desire for more flexible hours to help support childcare and home schooling was noted, along with a need for managers to better understand individual situations. Women were more critical than men on this topic of understanding productivity and workload. This suggests that traditional gender roles are continuing to play out for those still in lockdown, with women carrying more of the caring responsibilities.
Chambers said businesses should take the following steps to improve their approach to remote work:
- Listen to employees: It seems simple, but all too often businesses fail to ask employees for their opinion on what does and doesn't work for them. Not all requests can be acted upon immediately – but maintaining a conversation with employees regarding what is workable and what is not will ensure they have a voice and feel heard.
- Be flexible: According to the findings of our Employee Expectations Report, employees worldwide are crying out for more flexibility. Often this is feasible. Allowing employees to flex their hours around caring responsibilities, free from judgement, can help them achieve a better work life balance, which is important to support their mental health.
- Be realistic: Business productivity may dip in the coming months as some employees remain working remotely and others return to the workplace. Communication will be key, but monitoring employees won't help. It will only demonstrate a lack of trust in them and encourage them to look elsewhere when the climate improves. Instead, business leaders should work with employees to overcome barriers to their productivity where possible. Those that do will be rewarded with longer term loyalty and hard work.