Remote workers in the U.S. aren’t getting much love from their managers and in-office colleagues, and that’s setting the stage for a potentially toxic workplace environment.

As many workers continue to telecommute amid the resurgence of Covid-19, most managers and in-office staff view remote employees unfavorably and as less productive, according to a survey by Perceptyx.

The new phenomenon, which Perceptyx labels “officism,” threatens to “disrupt any chance of a smooth transition to a hybrid workplace,” it said in its report.

More than half of in-office staff harbor negative attitudes toward their remote-working colleagues, though it’s managers who have the highest level of “officism,” according to Perceptyx, an employee-listening company. It surveyed more than 1,000 working Americans.

The results are cause for concern because “those managers are the same people who are designing hybrid work plans while the Delta variant of Covid-19 still surges around the world,” the report said.

A majority (59 percent) of managers and in-office staff surveyed stated their belief that remote workers are not as productive even as research has shown that telecommuting employees are just as productive as in-office colleagues.

Most of those working in the office (68 percent) also noted that in-person work increased an employee’s potential for career growth, while three-quarters said that being physically present provided better relationships between in-office managers and employees.

Still, the threat of officism isn’t deterring remote employees. About two-thirds of them have become accustomed to telecommuting and want to continue indefinitely.

“If these views persist, it’s likely there will be long-term disadvantages for those employees who want ultimate flexibility in where, when and how they work,” Dr. Brett Wells, director of people analytics at Perceptyx, said in the report. “The high officism level we’re seeing in management is particularly troubling if employers want to retain those employees who aren’t sure about returning to the physical workplace. It’s important to educate managers and make workplace policies that demonstrate fairness and avoid potential conflicts between the two groups.”

Curbing negative attitudes

According to Wells, there are several ways to combat officism with employee-listening programs:

  1. Move beyond traditional performance measures: Employers will have to rethink basic annual performance reviews where everyone “meets expectations.” For example, employers might want to ask: “If this person left the company, would you rehire him/her?” Connecting organizational success to team and individual performance, then testing for officism is a better way forward.
  2. Emphasize skill development, talent mobility and the identification of high potential. Just as you would test and ensure that protected groups of individuals have equitable opportunities, add remote workers to this list and communicate success stories of remote employees who continue to grow and develop in their careers.
  3. Foster relationships. Listening programs should be finding ways remote employees can build connections. Hiring for an HR role that is responsible solely for the remote-employee experience will add expertise and help ease the shift to hybrid.

 

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