Do Employees Really Want to Return to the Workplace? Managing the Transition from Home
Updated: Sep 15
PsycHR recently found that 68% of people did not want to return to the workplace. This was out of 486 cross-sector employees surveyed, and up from 36% in April! – so what has caused this change? This blog will explore the reasons why employees might not want to return to work, what some companies are already doing to transition working from home (WFH) to work at the office, some recommendations on how this can be done best and what the future of the world of work might look like.
HR professionals have increasingly been discussing how to transition employees back to the workplace from the COVID-19 isolation since Boris Johnson emphasised the importance of re-stabilising our economy by having trade and workplaces return back to normal. However, employers have reacted differently to this, and it raises the question “Are employees ready”?
Reasons Why Employees May Not Want to Return
Change can be one of the leading causes of anxiety, especially around work. In the words of Wisse and Seebos (2016):
‘Change is more likely to lead to stress when the change has consequences for matters that are central to employees' sense of self, and particularly so when the personal self is salient. This effect is mediated by feelings of uncertainty’
The Journal of Business and Psychology
Work, like many elements of today’s social climate, is surrounded by lots of other variables, including: team dynamics, self-perception, financial responsibility, future prospects, mental and physical health and much more.
What often happens, and we discuss this in Change Management, is that people adjust or “get used to” a certain way and so the prospect of shifting this can be unsettling. So, has being at home now, for almost 6 months, become the norm and could thinking about travelling, socialising, the demands of the day and leaving family be “too much”?
Well PsycHR found that this is likely to be the case, for many employees. Regardless of sector, industry or seniority. The shift from home to work is anxiety inducing, albeit for some people a small amount and for others a great deal more. Some workplace professionals talk about a scale of resilience and so if we consider this concept, PsycHR recommend that you invest the time in finding out what your employees want and then plan a strategy for reintegration. PsycHR have always championed “asking the employee what they want” and that also extends to reward, benefits, and complex case management; then balance this with productivity or commerciality for the organisation.
In terms of supporting mental health, anxiety should be addressed as soon as possible for employers to support their employees effectively in the transition to normal work place environments. Poor communication between the employer and employee and low consideration of reasonable change implementation can lead to absenteeism, lack of motivation, and many more implications. It is important that employees feel that they are listened to, and that their mental and physical well-being is being protected by their employers. Therefore, it is valuable for employers to carry out surveys, seek advice and support from external professionals to keep up to date with changing gov advice and practical management. If you need support from PsycHR to carry out employee surveys, analyse the results and compose action plans please do not hesitate to contact us.
Another area causing concern is safety at work. Has the employer taken enough precautions in the workplace? Have they followed the government guidelines? Will they maintain the safety standards to ensure employees and the people they share a home with stay safe?
Some key recommendations for organisations are:
· Provide hand sanitiser (non-alcoholic is preferred for E&D reasons)
· Encourage face coverings
· Implement constant observation of the 1m plus rule
· Ensure common touch points are disinfected regularly (such as door handles)
· Limit shared elevator use
· Posters reminding employees to wash hands and maintain social distance
· Screens to be erected between desks if possible
· One-way systems around the office to reduce interactions
· Carry out COVID risk-assessments of the workplace
· Publish or make accessible safety plans for employees
It should also be considered that a portion of the workforce may be high-risk. Although Shielding has now been ‘paused’ by the government meaning active encouragement to return to the workplace, the duty of care still remains. Meaning employers have a responsibility to keep employees safe and the employees have a right to not be harmed at work. Remember that employees can refuse to work if they feel that the workplace puts them in direct danger and employers could be exposed if they have not followed adequate guidelines. Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, also notes that employees may not be subjected to a detriment because they have raised a relevant health and safety concern with their employer.
BAME employees have also expressed concerns about being at higher-risk of contracting the virus and spreading it to those they live with, and so carrying out further surveys or communication with these employees can be reassuring and improve the feeling of being valued.
PsycHR emphasise the importance of full workplace COVID risk assessments being carried out prior to employees returning to the office, however later is better than never at all. Precautions should be taken and implemented at all times. This is also vital to maximise legal protection. PsycHR point out that we have already seen the first cases of COVID lawsuits against employers in the USA and that could follow here. Although handling the COVID-19 pandemic is a new experience for everyone, ignorance or negligence will never be a favourable defence in an employment tribunal. Therefore, employers should educate themselves and seek advice where necessary. Furthermore, aside from the litigation risk, employers should want to avoid any unexpected widespread sickness and absence risk within their workforce. Never be afraid to break the mould and think strategically about your goals of keeping people safe and keeping production going.
Time & Money
Another reason for the reluctancy to return to work was reportedly the time and money saved by being at home. These savings were categorised as travel, lunches, social events, as well as savings on the duration of commuting to work and back.
90 mins is the average commuting time to and from workplaces in London
£233 is the average cost per month of commuting to work in London
£300 is the average amount spent on lunches per month in London
These averages would equate to £3,833 in savings per year, or 14.2% of the annual net post-tax salary of an average employee in London.
Interestingly, Employees have reported that the time saved from not commuting has been spent mostly on headspace/resting or extra working. Either way, PsycHR recognise that both these things are conducive to better working, the former for better wellbeing and the latter for direct increased productivity.
Work Life Balance
Time at home has meant that employees are spending spend more time with their families, children, quality time with their partners and more time communicating with friends. Lunch time has also seen more people get out and get active; with 6 in 10 employees using this time to go for a walk (sometimes even with a pet) or to do housework. Things that most employees cannot do whist in an out-of-home workplace and more, importantly activities which would probably still need to happen outside of work hours.
Are employees comparing what they have now with that they had, and preferring this? Yes - according to our survey. Employees recognise that they won’t get this opportunity when back in the workplace and now value the “better work life balance”.
When speaking to employers PsycHR have found that their biggest concern is that employees might be less productive at home. Maybe sleep a little too long (yes, really), extend their lunch breaks, be distracted during work hours, or log off early. However, we advise that this fear would be mitigated simply with good people management. Managers should be confident and capable in managing punctuality, professionalism, conduct, absence and other core skills. Unconfident managers may micromanage, which can alienate and remove the autonomy and variety that many employees thrive with at work.
Whilst employees are expected to conduct themselves professionally, managers should also be “human” in their approach, understanding the complications that come with WFH. Supporting your staff’s adapting requirements should enhance feelings of inclusion and team bonds. If you believe your management team need upskilling or training contact PsycHR for one-to-one coaching or workshops on manager core skills.
Equally some employees reported wanting to ‘escape’ the home environment, and return to the workplace. Our research found that for just under 11% of people surveyed (interestingly a small correlation with males) found time with children overwhelming, felt pressure on the relationship with their partner, experienced a negative impact on the relationship with people they live with and had difficulty focusing. When asked if they felt that this decreased productivity, 98% said yes. It is also important to note, that for some households domestic violence is an issue, with the Office of National Statistics reporting that 2.4 million adults aged between 16-74 experience domestic abuse at home per year (England & Wales, 2019). Therefore considering that the workplace can be a safe place for people and a drive to return should also be considered when deciding on when to transition employees.
There have also been concerns raised about mental health, 18% of employees we surveyed mentioned feelings of isolation, loneliness, lack of mental stimulation and wanting to socialise. Some of our tips to reduce these feelings during remote working or home working, are to schedule coffee breaks and virtual team casual catch ups, regular meetings between manager and employee, setting goals or targets, and encouraging partnered work where possible.
These are some of the reasons why offering a flexible workplace might be best. PsycHR believe, in most situations, that to have the most dynamic workforce and propel productivity they must be agile. To have a “one size fits all” approach does not work for everyone. Understanding what makes employees feel comfortable and supplying this, can be best.
What Are Employers Doing?
Twitter based in London’s Soho, announced that employees could work from home ‘forever’ if they want to. Twitter have said that overall they found that the lockdown measures were successful for the company.
BBC (2020) report that this has been described as an ‘era defining moment’ and PsycHR suggests that this could be an insight into the future of the world of work by setting further expectations for Generation Z workers.
PsycHR also point out that there is a commercial benefit to employees working from home. With office space costing on average £10,000 per month for 10 employees in central London, organisations who opt to reduce their leased office space, could see a direct improvement to their bottom line and possibly their profits.
Note that regular home workers may have statutory rights for tax-free financial support from their employer, such as a fixed rate of £6/week for weekly paid employees or £26/month for monthly paid employees to support with gas, electricity or internet access. Employers may also have to supply equipment and in line with the HSE conduct regular home work station assessments (nevertheless both are relevant to in office employees too).
Optimally, Twitter have said that they will also keep office space open for those employees who want to work from the office or where their role or home life situation lends itself to being in an out-of-home workplace.
Bloomberg, who employ over 4000 people in their London City office, were one of the first financial service firms to encourage all staff to work from home when news broke out of the risk of the pandemic. They have supported international working, with many employees returning to their native counties to work through the pandemic, which reportedly has boosted team morale.
Note that PsycHR have an upcoming blog on the ‘Globalisation of the workplace and the Tax Implications’ which will cover key features such as: When does an employee working abroad have tax responsibilities in the local country? Does an employer have tax liabilities due to an employee working abroad? Does it matter if a company has a legal entity in that country?
In the last two weeks, Bloomberg have encouraged employees to return to the office with a plan for full integration and return normal. They have implemented various measures to make their office COVID secure including: temperature measuring on arrival, offering phased returns (2 days in the office on week 1, 3 days in week 2, 4 days in week 3 and so on, with the remaining days being at home), various restroom facilities being closed down to focus deep and regular cleaning, offering antibacterial and gloves, as well as encouraging social distancing all in an effort to support safety at work and mitigate the risk of an internal outbreak, as seen in March with HSBC having to evacuate their Canary Wharf building.
Other workplace practices have seen organisation split their workforce into A & B groups, who attend the office alternately to increase the chance of business continuity in the case of an outbreak. Implementing sensors to create a ‘no-touch’ environment and software to create smart spaces where human capacity can be measured in real-time to monitor social distancing.
What Is The Future World of Work?
This has been considered an exciting time - a time where organisations might think more dimensionally than statically. Can we hire worldwide and have a truly global workforce? Can remote workers save us costs on office space and insurances? Is this an opportunity to upskill our managers? Whether you are considering some of these questions or not, your competition might be. A shift in the world of the work may lead to organisations with more favourable terms, attracting better talent.
We can all agree that WFH as a result of the pandemic has opened up the eyes of employees and employers about flexibly working productively. PsycHR’s position is that workplaces with a flexible option offering both a central workplace and the ability to work from home is ideal.
In terms of a central workplace, this would usually follow a hot desk model with unallocated seats. Once employers identify the ratio of flexible home workers and office-based staff, companies can determine the office space needed. We recommend having seats for 60% of the workforce, with multiple meeting rooms for one-to-one and team meetings. Also, implementing a virtual seat tracking software or reservations system can be valuable to manage office space and employee expectations. Also as previously mentioned there can be significant financial benefit of companies reducing leased office space.
Additionally, some employees might want to work from home permanently and become home workers. Remember, as with all Flexible Working requests there are only 8 legal reasons to dismiss a request. Remember, you can always use a trial period.
Whether you decide to transition all employees to the workplace, allow full working from home or a blended approach, PsycHR encourage you to consult your workforce on finding out they want. With any workplace arrangement, people management is at the heart of success, setting employee targets which link to the company goals, connecting employees through shared company values and using measurements and analytics on performance should support you in achieving the balance between organisational productivity and employee wellbeing.
If you would like further support on your workplace transition or if you need PsycHR to project manage or complete any employee surveys get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Written by Nina Malekkou on behalf of PsycHR