CHROs May Be Wrong About Return-to-Workplace

Image credit: iStockphoto/nd3000

Employees are not happy with their employers’ and CHROs’ attempts at hybrid working.

Gartner’s 2021 Hybrid Work Employee Survey, in which over 2,400 knowledge workers in January 2021 took part, notes that companies’ attempt to use tracking systems has employees two times more likely to pretend to work.

At the same time, virtual meeting overloading to compensate for the lack of physical connection is draining productivity. Employees who spend more time in meetings are 1.24 times more likely to feel emotionally drained at work.

However, the biggest gripe has been companies' subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) attempts to bring workers to the office.

“Organizations have reacted to this crisis by recreating what they know, but rather than merely adapting principles from the on-site environment to the hybrid world, organizations need to unlearn old habits and fundamentally rethink work design,” said Jérôme Mackowiak, director, advisory, in the Gartner HR practice. “Forcing employees to go back to the on-site environment could result in employers losing up to 39% of their workforce.”          

In fact, despite broad proclamations by employers that their employees are ready to get back to the workplace, the survey revealed only 4% chose this option.

Conventional theories debunked

The research also debunked conventional thinking that the serendipitous “water-cooler” moments will drive innovation, which companies still use as a primary reason to return employees to the office.

The idea is rooted in HR leaders believing synchronous work — individuals working together, whether in-person or virtually — is most critical to driving innovation. But Gartner's research shows that asynchronous work is just as important.

“Intentional collaboration democratizes access to all modes of working — focused not just on the location, but time-spend — and is inclusive of both business and employee needs,” said Alexia Cambon, director in the Gartner HR practice. “Progressive organizations are relying less on innovation by chance and more on innovation by design. Among employees whose organizations have high levels of intentional collaboration, 75% also report having high levels of team innovation.”

Stop virtualizing the office

The problem is a corporate mindset built on office-centric practices. Current virtualized work design models are based on these practices. It is why companies are increasing meetings and adding monitoring employees because they are simply transplanting processes and policies and using technologies to reinforce them. This, said Gartner, has to stop.

“Force-fitting a design created for a different environment exacerbates fatigue, and fatigue impacts many talent outcomes,” said Cambon. “When employees experience high levels of fatigue, employee performance decreases by up to 33%, feelings of inclusion decrease by up to 44%, and employees are up to 54% less likely to remain with their employer.”

Instead, companies should adopt an employee-driven approach to flexible working that empowers employees to choose where, when, and how they work. They must destigmatize flexible working by making it the default — not the exception — and developing principles — not policies — around flexible working, said Gartner.

Employee-driven flexibility enables individuals to integrate personal and professional obligations to achieve work-life harmonization. The Gartner survey found that organizations with high levels of flexibility are almost three times more likely to see high employee performance.

CHROs need to invest in empathy

Shifting to a hybrid environment introduced new employee struggles at the same time manager visibility decreased.

While employees report difficulty disconnecting from work, feeling overwhelmed by caretaking responsibilities, and suffering from virtual fatigue, 69% of HR leaders reported that managers have less visibility into employee work patterns in today’s hybrid scenario.

While 89% of HR leaders said managers must lead with empathy in the hybrid environment, Gartner's research revealed that organizational investments in managers to enable empathy-based management are falling short.

For instance, while 68% of HR leaders agreed that many managers are overwhelmed by their responsibilities in today’s hybrid work model, only 14% of organizations have changed manager role design to reduce their responsibilities.

Managing with empathy requires a shift away from performance by inputs toward performance by outcomes, said Gartner.  

However, with managers already overwhelmed by the demands of their role, Gartner advised HR leaders must adopt a holistic strategy that focuses on overcoming three common barriers to empathy: skill, mindset, and capacity.

Winston Thomas is the editor-in-chief of CDOTrends. HR&DigitalTrends and DataOpsTrends. He is always curious about all things digital, including new digital business models, the widening impact of AI/ML, unproven singularity theories, proven data science success stories, lurking cybersecurity dangers, and reimagining the digital experience. You can reach him at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/nd3000