Employees want more certainty about postpandemic working arrangements—even if you don’t yet know what to tell them.
As organizations look to the postpandemic future, many are planning a hybrid virtual model that combines remote work with time in the office. This sensible decision follows solid productivity increases during the pandemic.
But while productivity may have gone up, many employees report feeling anxious and burned out. Unless leaders address the sources of employee anxiety, pandemic-style productivity gains may prove unsustainable in the future.1 That’s because anxiety is known to reduce job satisfaction, negatively affect interpersonal relationships with colleagues, and decrease work performance.
Our survey results make the source of anxiety clear: employees feel they’ve yet to hear enough about their employers’ plans for post-COVID-19 working arrangements. Organizations may have announced a general intent to embrace hybrid virtual work going forward, but too few of them, employees say, have shared detailed guidelines, policies, expectations, and approaches. And the lack of remote-relevant specifics is leaving employees anxious.
As organizational leaders chart the path toward the postpandemic world, they need to communicate more frequently with their employees—even if their plans have yet to solidify fully. Organizations that have articulated more specific policies and approaches for the future workplace have seen employee well-being and productivity rise.
The following categories examine our survey findings and shed light on what employees want from the future of work.
Feeling included. Even high-level communication about post-COVID-19 working arrangements boosts employee well-being and productivity. But organizations that convey more detailed, remote-relevant policies and approaches see greater increases. Employees who feel included in more detailed communication are nearly five times more likely to report increased productivity. Because communicating about the future can drive performance outcomes today, leaders should consider increasing the frequency of their employee updates—both to share what’s already decided and to communicate what is still uncertain.
Communication breakdown. Valuable as a detailed vision for postpandemic work might be to employees, 40 percent of them say they’ve yet to hear about any vision from their organizations, and another 28 percent say that what they’ve heard remains vague.
Anxiety at work. At organizations that are communicating vaguely, or not at all, about the future of postpandemic work, nearly half of employees say it’s causing them concern or anxiety. Anxiety is known to decrease work performance, reduce job satisfaction, and negatively affect interpersonal relationships with colleagues, among other ills. For the global economy, the loss of productivity because of poor mental health—including anxiety—might be as high as $1 trillion per year.
Burning out. The lack of clear communication about the future of postpandemic work also contributes to employee burnout. Nearly half of employees surveyed say they’re feeling some symptoms of being burned out at work. That may be an underestimate, since employees experiencing burnout are less likely to respond to survey requests, and the most burned-out individuals may have already left the workforce—as have many women, who’ve been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
Share more. Burnout is especially pronounced for people feeling anxious due to a lack of organizational communication. These employees were almost three times more likely to report feeling burned out. The obvious recommendation for organizational leaders: share more with employees, even if you’re uncertain about the future, to help improve employee well-being now.
By Andrea Alexander, Aaron De Smet, Meredith Langstaff, and Dan Ravid
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