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The Psychology Behind Employee Hybrid Workplace Choices
Returning to the office is a psychologically loaded issue. Employee hybrid workplace choices are as varied as individual circumstances. Not considering the psychology behind employee hybrid workplace preferences has several consequences.
By asking the right questions and listening to employee feedback you can create solutions that fit.
Psychology’s Role in Influencing Employee Hybrid Workplace Choices
Numerous studies show that a significant number of employees choose a hybrid workplace, which is a mixture of remote and in-office work. A minority welcome a full-time return to the office. And a third balk at the idea of a return to the office in any form.
In Google’s annual survey of its employees, for instance, about 70% of 110,000 respondents said they had a “favorable” view about working from home. Some 15% had an “unfavorable” opinion. And another 15 % had a neutral perspective, according to results viewed by The New York Times.
Additional surveys tell us an overwhelming majority of employees would forfeit a $30,000 salary increase over remote work.
There’s a host of psychological drivers behind these preferences.
“Each worker had a different home environment and lifestyle prior to the pandemic, which has now translated into different work environments as well” Deloitte states in a recent report.
“For some, getting back to the office will be a welcome relief from the chaos or discomfort of working from home. For others, working from home has opened their eyes to not only a new way of working but also a new way of living.”
Let’s delve into some of these different personas that explain what people are thinking at this time.
Five Personas that Explain Employee Hybrid Workplace Choices
While few people fit neatly into one particular persona, several descriptions have been crafted to give you a sense of what’s driving people’s psychosocial preferences. Here’s our hybrid version:
These individuals live alone. They have few routines or structures when it comes to working from home. The people they interacted with throughout the day were a key part of their office experience. They value the office because it offers structure and a way to separate work and life. They miss the personal and professional daily social interactions with their colleagues – a major reason why they want to come into the office.
Are people who work at their own pace, without someone constantly keeping tabs. While they enjoy the camaraderie of colleagues, working away in the office is empowering and lifts their feelings of fulfillment. The idea of a regular schedule, of coming into the office, threatens their sense of routine and wellbeing.
These folks often live beyond a reasonable commute to the office. They’ll come in for the occasional meeting or event but prefer to work at home full-time. For them, collaboration through technology gives them a great work/life balance.
Are workers who crave both quiet times for deep thinking and group brainstorming. They find virtual meetings cramp spontaneous creative connection across teams. For these people, individual tasks are easier to do at home. But they also want to be able to return to the office for teamwork and collaboration.
Jugglers are torn between meeting work responsibilities and managing family needs. They’ve enjoyed not worrying about their kids being heard or spotted on a call. But they miss the office. It’s a getaway from the demands of parenting. These individuals are at their best when they can choose a hybrid work schedule that offers both “me” and “we” spaces.
Employees who probably didn’t work from home (WFH) before the pandemic. They’re keen to get back to the office full-time. The challenge for organizations is if a traditional worker manages others. This person will need coaching and support to realize that while remote work isn’t a good fit for them, it is for others.
Leadership’s Psychological Blind Spots
Being a leader isn’t easy. There are so many personal quirks and views to think of, the least of which is the leader’s own (which can have tremendous consequences when managing others).
Behavioral scientist Gleb Tsipursky explains that leaders who want everyone to return to the office are typically reacting to their own discomfort with WFH. “They spent their career surrounded by other people. They want to resume regularly walking the floors, surrounded by the energy of staff working.“
This mental blind spot, Tsipursky says, causes leaders to feel anchored to their experiences. “The evidence that WFH functions well for the vast majority doesn’t cause them to shift their perspective in any significant manner.”
In a piece for Psychology Today, Dr. Tsipursky talks about how it’s easy for management to assume they know what employees want. He cites a “dangerous judgment error” called the false consensus effect.
The false consensus effect tricks us into thinking others share our beliefs. It’s one of over 100 mental patterns researchers in behavioral economics and cognitive neuroscience call cognitive biases.
We’re best to turn to “objective data that doesn’t rely on gut feelings and assumptions to circumvent these mental blind spots,” Tsipursly asserts.
Understand the Psychology of Returning to Work
Technology behemoths were among the first to send employees packing their laptops for home offices. People adjusted quickly to remote work. Productivity levels continued barely interrupted. Communication stepped up. Employee engagement rates climbed.
Now, these tech giants want their office-centric cultures back and are leading the charge for a return to the office. Worldwide, organizations of all sectors and sizes are looking at following suit.
But as Psychology Today presents in an article about depression in Covid’s wake, we can’t go back to the way we used to live our lives. Our own and other people’s “habits, norms, values, preferences, and goals changed, sometimes dramatically, during the many, many months of the pandemic. We have to recognize that the previous way we fulfilled our needs doesn’t work in our current environment.”
In the early days of the pandemic, “it seemed daunting to move a 100,000-plus person organization to virtual, but now it seems even more daunting to figure out how to bring them back safely,” says David Radcliffe, Google’s vice president for real estate and workplace services.
Psychologically, employees won’t want to sit in a long row of desks, Radcliffe predicts. So, the company is now working with consultants, “including sociologists who study Generation Z and how junior high students socialize and learn — to imagine what future workers would want.”
While executive teams debate what to do, their displaced workforces are thinking about their hybrid workplace choices. That’s why it’s so important to survey employees, so there are no doubts over the best course of action for office reintegration.
Take Stock of Employee Sentiment Around Hybrid Workplace Choices with Surveys
In June, an internal revolt against a forced return started brewing at Apple. Failure to conduct effective surveys was one of the biggest complaints behind the pushback.
A letter addressed to CEO Tim Cook, signed by some 2,800 Apple WFH supporters formally asked for “company-wide recurring short surveys with a clearly structured and transparent communication feedback process at the company-wide level, organization-wide level, and team-wide level.”
If Apple and other like-minded organizations want to understand what’s emotionally motivating employees’ hybrid workplace choices (and to avoid mass resignations) a series of hybrid workplace questions can get the conversation going.
Close the Great Divide: Correlate Psychographics with Demographics
People working in the same organization can have such diverse opinions. When you think about all the demographic differences in our workforces, it’s not so surprising.
So, slicing and dicing feedback data by different demographics will give a deeper appreciation of employee psychographic sentiment. Not just at an individual level, but also at group levels. And will point hybrid workplace strategies in the right direction. For instance:
A global study shows that a person’s job affects their work-related mindset.
- Employees working in sales and R&D as an example say that not having direct access to people and equipment has hampered the ability to do their jobs well.
- People with roles that involve lengthy periods of concentration, like law and finance, tend to manage their remote work more successfully.
By Age Group
- 90% of Millennial (27-41) and Gen Z (9-26) employees worldwide don’t want to return to work in the office full-time.
- A full 85% of Millennials want to WFH 100% of the time.
- 74% of older Americans want flexible schedules and 34% of them prefer to WFH.
- 13% of Gen Z say they have no remote-work challenges and love their WFH life.
- While most Millennials and Gen Z’ers agree that remote work fosters better communication and trust in the workplace, Gen Z found the transition to working from home more challenging.
- 48% (almost half) of Gen Z workers confess they’re bored with their WFH jobs. (When you work remotely, you miss out on so many opportunities to connect with your colleagues and managers, from briefly running into each other in the office to Friday happy hours a block from the office).
- More than any other generation, 36% of Gen Z workers say remote work negatively affected their productivity, mental health, and skill development.
- Over two-fifths of all employees, especially younger ones, express concern over career progress if they work from home while other employees like them don’t.
Traditional genders differ in why they prefer remote work.
- More men than women prefer remote work to save money, have better focus, and be more productive.
- Men take pleasure from the unfamiliarity of working from home and find it easier to overlook the piles of washing.
- Women experience more role conflict as they experience multiple roles simultaneously.
By Marginalized Group
- Black knowledge workers rank “making sure [their] employer knows [they] are working” as their second-most-pressing challenge. For white employees, it ranks eighth.
- On the other hand, workspace challenges are very real for underrepresented populations. According to U.S. Census data, more people live in Black and Latino households than in White households; cramped quarters mean a lack of space and privacy and oftentimes, limited access to technology as simple as a home computer.
Meet Psychological Variables with Intentional Action
These demographic revelations are just a sampling of what’s simmering in the hearts and minds of employees.
Frequent employee pulse surveys that probe the why’s and why not’s with intention and purpose peel back layers of uncertainty to reveal key nuggets of actionable information.
WorkTango can help your organization listen and adapt. Create a workplace that supports the psychological health and wellbeing of employees and the health and wellbeing of your organization.
At WorkTango, we’re revolutionizing how the world’s most forward-thinking companies engage and inspire their people. We offer the only holistic Employee Experience Platform built for the modern workplace that enables meaningful recognition and rewards, offers actionable insights through employee surveys, and supports alignment through goal setting and feedback.
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