This blog post is provided by the IPR Organizational Communication Research Center.
As we reflect and speculate about what the workplace will look like after the COVID-19 pandemic, we are beginning to wrap our heads around the notion that remote working will last longer than many of us initially predicted.
In May, we saw how large tech companies began to tell their employees to work from home at least until 2021. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey went a step further and notified his workers that they could keep working from home in perpetuity if they are in a role that enables them to do so. Similarly, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg anticipated that half of the company’s workforce would work from home by 2030 and that most new hires will be eligible for permanent remote work.
Tech companies are not the only ones heading in that direction. French automaker PSA, which makes Peugeot, Citroën, DS, Opel and Vauxhall, revealed that their non-production staff will operate remotely from now on. Given this trend, Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics, has predicted that 25-30% of the workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.
Is this decision to perpetuate the new work from home routine a good move? An online survey conducted by The Grossman Group of 841 current U.S. employees across a wide range of industries from April 27 to May 1 highlighted that 48% would like to continue working from home in a post-pandemic world. A more recent survey of 25 firms conducted in mid-May found that 67% of lawyers and law firm staff want to continue working remotely, at least a couple of days a week, following the coronavirus pandemic.
On the one hand, these surveys indicate that a large percentage of employees would like to keep working from home. Saving the time and money of commuting, spending more time with their children and significant others, having more time for fitness, and being able to structure the day how they want are some of the benefits that remote-working supporters highlight. On the other hand, the survey results also suggest that the closure of office spaces is not attractive for a considerable amount of people. One of the most challenging aspects of remote working for parents with young children is to manage them and take on the additional job of part-time teachers. Working in bedrooms or shared rooms with family members has also been challenging for some. Therefore, organizations should not take a one-size-fits-all approach as they begin to think about the future.
Burnout and Employee Thriving
As a large number of organizations are shifting their mindset regarding working from home, they must pay a lot of attention to the effects of remote working on employees. NordVPN, a personal virtual private network service provider, has found that employees in the U.S. are logging three hours more per day on the job than before the beginning of this pandemic. Countries like Canada, France, Spain, and the U.K. have seen an increase of nearly two hours.Unsurprisingly, these long hours of work have increased burnout among employees. A survey conducted by Blind, an app that provides an anonymous forum for verified employees to discuss workplace issues, found that 73% of working professionals were burned out in April compared to 61% in mid-February. The top two reasons for burnout during the pandemic have been the lack of separation between “work” and “life” (26.7%), and an unmanageable workload (20.5%).
In business, employee engagement is often touted as the gateway to competitive advantage. Research has shown that engagement leads to higher levels of productivity and organizational success. However, a study conducted by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence found that 20% of employees in their sample reported both high engagement and high burnout. These engaged-exhausted workers also manifested the highest turnover intentions in the sample.
How should organizations deal with this problem? In other words, how can organizations keep their employees engaged in times of coronavirus without burning them out in the process? I recently came across a concept known as employee thriving at work. Researchers have defined thriving at work as a desirable psychological state in which employees experience a joint sense of vitality (i.e., feeling energized and alive) and learning (i.e., a sense of continually acquiring and applying valuable knowledge and skills).
For employees to thrive, high levels of both vitality and learning need to be present. When employees are energized but have insufficient learning and growing opportunities, they are more likely to feel stagnated. Similarly, if employees are learning but are not experiencing vitality, they may begin to feel consumed and exhausted, which will eventually lead to burnout. What makes this concept so powerful is that a thriving employee is not likely to experience burnout.
Therefore, organizations should not only engage employees with learning opportunities; they must also make sure that employees are feeling energized. In these stressful times, employers should take steps to help and encourage employees to have two components to their life: work and private.
Patrick Thelen, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of public relations at San Diego State University and the chief research editor for the Institute for Public Relations’ Organizational Communication Research Center. Follow him on LinkedIn or Twitter.