The Work From Home Paradox

In the current trend of work from home, fostering employee engagement is vital for business success. Engaged employees, especially in a remote setting, are more committed to their company’s goals and tend to exceed expectations in their tasks. The challenge for businesses is to adapt to this remote work model by implementing strategies that promote collaboration and communication, despite the physical distance. This includes using technology effectively and ensuring employees feel valued and part of the team, even from afar. By addressing the unique needs of a work-from-home environment, companies can maintain high levels of employee engagement, leading to better overall business outcomes.

The Harvard Business Review Analytic Services surveyed over 500 business executives and 71% of respondents ranked employee engagement as ‘very important’ to achieving overall business success. 

Gallup finds a similar correlation with multiple studies confirming that a highly engaged business improves profitability by 21% and reduces turnover by 59%. It goes without saying that engaged employees are emotionally invested in the company, provide the best services to clients, have improved morale, and take less time off. 

Typically, there is a link between employee engagement and their overall wellbeing. Gallup has been tracking employee engagement and the wellbeing of employees since 2009 and confirms that engagement and wellbeing have influenced each other. 

A thriving and productive workplace with minimal burnout requires both engagement and wellbeing. Then, things began to change in 2020 as new trends emerged indicating a disconnect between employee engagement and wellbeing. This disconnect has resulted in serious implications for businesses. 

Work From Home

The Paradox

COVID-19 has significantly reduced workers’ well-being. Stress and worry spiked during the height of the pandemic and continued to elevate throughout the year. Only 46.5% of individuals felt that they were thriving (a 15% drop from pre-pandemic levels). This stress is coming from health and job concerns, social disconnectedness, social injustice, childcare strains, and uncertainty about the future.

It is worth pointing out that stress and worry have been worse for employees working from home compared to on-site employees. This is a huge cause for concern since 40-60% of employees are telecommuting. 

To make things more complicated, working from home during COVID-19 correlated with intensified levels of engagement among employees (more so than on-site employees). 

This is an obvious paradox. Working from home increases engagement among employees but seems to have a negative impact on their wellbeing, along with all the negative emotional baggage it carries such as stress and worry. 

The Causes 

2020 saw mass layoffs on an unprecedented scale, so having a job in and of itself makes employees feel grateful and appreciative of their leaders. Also, working from home gives employees more flexibility and autonomy. With the high engagement rates, it is clear that the company’s leaders stepped up, inspired, and united employees by providing them with a shared sense of purpose.

However, many remote employees are currently parenting, teaching, and enduring extended workdays in a single space (that they barely left since calls for lockdowns). This also applies to unmarried remote workers who are susceptible to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Worse still is the fact that well-being is always on a decline when a country experiences major economic events and increasing social divisiveness.

So, where does that leave us? Engagement moved in one direction and wellbeing was pulled in the opposite direction. The biggest concern is that many employees have hit or are approaching a breaking point that leads to burnout and suffering with long-term consequences.

How employers and managers respond will make all the difference. Leaders who work to prevent and manage burnout while capitalizing on the flexibility and efficiency that remote work affords will build stronger, healthier, and more productive workforces into the future. 

Tips to Managing Remote Workers

Start measuring employee wellbeing in addition to employee engagement. 

If you haven’t sent out an employee engagement survey in the last few years, do so now – it’s better late than never. 

Encourage your employees to create purposeful recovery periods and set boundaries. 

Drawing lines between personal and professional lives is crucial. As a manager, send work emails during office hours. One study involving 2000 working adults showed that senders of after-hours work emails don’t realize the negative emotions their receivers go through, most of whom are compelled to respond right away. 

It is highly recommended to have your employees complete a stress assessment. Click here for more information on how to conduct a thorough stress assessment:—stress-quotient-report

Stay connected.

Establish rules for communication. You don’t have to be in touch constantly, but rather set up an appropriate cadence of communication to keep everyone involved and on track. Specify a set of rules for how quickly you and your team respond to emails and phone calls. 

Also, determine what follow-up steps should be taken to not allow things to fall through the cracks. 

Lastly, get personal. Ask your team how they are doing, share personal details about your life, and ask them about theirs – just like you would do if they were in your office every day.

Set clear goals, expectations, and accountability. 

Set monthly, quarterly, and yearly performance goals as well as targets for “hitting it out of the park” for your team. When you have to deal with someone who just recently started to underperform, try to identify new variables that could be interfering with their work. Are there any organizational changes, any changes at home, etc? 

Healthy accountability starts with the manager acknowledging that external factors may be responsible for someone’s underperformance. Try to show your empathy without lowering the bar.

Try to practice radical candor.  

It’s when you are able to care for your employees while also challenging them – without confronting them. Allowing problems to go unaddressed will only result in much bigger problems in the future. Using empathy and being direct is an approach that allows you and your team to be on the same page about where mistakes are being made. Radical candor lets you fix these problems without causing the kind of upset and offense that creates drama and slows things down.

At BP Dudley & Associates, we udnerstand that working from home can be a challenge. Let us help you begin working from home successfully today.