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Team drinks and trivia? Going beyond token efforts is essential to make hybrid working work for everyone

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IN BRIEF
Wellbeing and productivity
Leaders need support to retain talent and drive high-performing teams. Our survey found that work/family conflicts correlated with lower wellbeing, and also to a lesser extent with lower productivity. This means people felt their work had a greater impact on their family life than their family life did on their work life.
Personalised interventions
We suggest leaders take a direct approach to supporting their team’s wellbeing: Make time to regularly ask your people how they are, and what they want or need; Do what you can to support their requests; Check in regularly and adjust approaches accordingly.
Systemic approach
HR must establish ways to promote wellbeing that change behaviour. Actions include: Promoting flexible work arrangements; Enabling job crafting: Monitoring hours worked and workload; Establishing compulsory non-meeting times; Instituting leave to give back to community; Considering broader benefits and perks.

By David Goullet and Melanie Coupe

When COVID-19 struck, many employees suddenly shifted to remote working. Now the immediate impacts of the pandemic have subsided, the desire for remote work remains strong, and low unemployment rates in many developed economies mean employees are in a strong position to push for flexibility with their employers.

As they navigate through the uncertainty, leaders say they need support in meeting employee expectations, so they can retain talent and drive high performing teams.

As organisations continue to transition their people to remote or hybrid work, contemporary research offers potential solutions on the unique challenges leaders are facing.

We sought to understand how employees juggle work and family commitments

Academics disagree on remote work’s impact on productivity and wellbeing. Many studies suggest that working from home improves productivity, increases time spent with family and increases health outcomes.[1] Other studies highlight the challenges of remote work, such as isolation, fatigue and technological faults.[2]

As a researcher and psychologist, the co-author of this article (David) undertook research to understand more about how employees juggle work and family conflict. Along with research colleagues Nathan Sciulli and Tristan Snell, David undertook research that has since been published in the Journal of Workplace Behavior. We are pleased to share some insights of the research, “The Impact of Work and Family Conflicts on Productivity and Well-Being during Remote Work”.[3]

Psychological states between work life and family life are in constant conflict, according to a respected psychological theory.[4] The stressors, achievements and obligations forced upon us by our work lives and our family lives are often in conflict.

Other researchers have identified key work/family conflicts:[5]

  • fatigue
  • lack of time to spend with family
  • lack of contact with family
  • time spent at work
  • distracting worries at work
  • sleep issues due to family stress.

In our research, we administered a survey that examined participants’ productivity, wellbeing and work/family conflicts. The survey asked remote-working participants to rate their agreeance with statements surrounding work/life conflict, productivity and wellbeing, along with other demographic questions to understand the characteristics of people responding. Our sample was large, diverse and representative.

We found that work/family conflicts correlated with lower wellbeing, and also to a lesser extent with lower productivity. This means people felt their work had a greater impact on their family life than their family life did on their work life.

The difference found in this remote working population was more extreme than in other studies where individuals were working in centralised office locations.[6] We also found demographic and environmental factors influenced individuals’ work/life conflicts, with low noise disturbance, socioeconomic status and age being correlated with higher wellbeing and productivity.

Targeted interventions will increase productivity and wellbeing

Our research suggests that leaders will get the greatest reward for their efforts by focusing on wellbeing and targeting interventions at an individual, team and organisational level. Leaders must take a comprehensive, purposeful and personal approach to what it means to be well at work and home.

We know that when people feel better within themselves and are more engaged and motivated, they produce better quality work.[7][8]

Leaders and HR departments need to confidently champion wellbeing interventions, articulating the benefits to employees and the business. We know that for every dollar spent by a business on a successful mental health program, the return on investment is between $1 and $4, averaging $2.31.[9]

Personalised interventions will likely improve wellbeing

The evidence shows that to improve wellbeing leaders should regularly check in with their teams, asking simple questions about how they are and what support they require. But many leaders are often reactive in their approach to improving wellbeing.

With the best of intentions, leaders commonly roll out interventions to improve wellbeing and connectedness such as staff lunches, workplace drinks and trivia. To employees, these sincere gestures can feel tokenistic and reactionary, often increasing disengagement and resentment. While these interventions are not inherently bad, they do not suffice. It is imperative that leaders speak to their team to understand their context and find a solution that works best for them.

Based on our research, we suggest leaders take a direct approach to supporting their team members’ wellbeing:

  1. Make time to regularly ask your people how they are, and what they want or need in relation to their wellbeing.
  2. Do what you can to support their requests and if you cannot do something, explain why.
  3. Check in regularly and adjust approaches accordingly.

Actions can increase wellbeing at a team and organisational level

Leaders and human resource functions must establish ways to promote wellbeing that enable positive and sustained behaviour change. Employees will only be able to protect their wellbeing when leadership support and the systems they are working within are aligned.

Emerging research suggests a positive relationship between good work design principles and learning, wellbeing and performance.[10] Practical ways leaders and human resource functions can promote ongoing good work design include:

  • Promoting flexible work arrangements: Things come up in people’s lives, and they need to be able to deal with them in a way and at a time that works for them to reduce conflict. Policies that allow people to start and finish at a time that works for them and the business can assist individuals with managing conflicts.
  • Enabling job crafting: Employees who have greater control of how they work are likely to experience greater engagement and purpose. Leaders that reduce job demands (physical and psychological stressors) and provide job resources (physical, social and organisational protective factors) can promote autonomy for employees to determine their ways of working.[11]  
  • Monitoring hours worked and workload: If some employees are working excessively, start a discussion about their workload and ways of working.

There are some more tactical changes that can be implemented quickly:

  • Establishing compulsory non-meeting times: Allow staff to build in regular connections with others and opportunities to facilitate their wellbeing. For example, teams/organisations may agree to implement a non-meeting hour, where (based on time zones) all employees in the team/organisation have the same meeting-free hour each day. Employees will be encouraged to use this time to do something that promotes their wellbeing such as recharge, have a break, connect with others, or catch up on work.
  • Instituting leave to give back to community: Enable staff time to “give back” to a community that is important to them or the organisation. Through providing leave to do so the conflict between work and family is reduced, allowing connection and a sense of purpose to be developed.
  • Considering broader benefits and perks: Support might include access to financial planners to help with consolidating loans, paid family leave, and access to meditation apps. While some staff enjoy and value the benefits and perks that come with working for an organisation, they should not be the only wellbeing offering.

Leaders need to show they are serious

The most effective leaders take a multifaced approach to increasing their team’s wellbeing. They display behaviours that allow others to feel safe to speak up and share practices that will facilitate wellbeing and productivity.

Leaders will also reduce systemic enablers of poor wellbeing to promote healthy work/life boundaries. A comprehensive, purposeful, and personal approach is needed when considering what it means to be well at work and at home.

Get in touch to explore how we can support wellbeing and productivity in your hybrid or remote team.

Connect with David Goullet and Melanie Coupe on LinkedIn.

Prepared with input from Jen Hendry and Kathy Voukelatos.

Published on 20 September 2022.

 

[1] Nurdiawati, E., Rizki, A, D, S. (2020). “The Relationship Between Complaints of Subjective Fatigue, Age and Working Period with Work Productivity of Workers”. Faletehan Health Journal, 7, 02, 113-118.

[2] Eddleston, K. A., Mulki, J. (2017). “Toward Understanding Remote Workers’ Management of Work–Family Boundaries: The Complexity of Workplace Embeddedness”. Group and Organization Management, 42(3), 346–387.

[3] Goullet, D., Sciulli, N., Snell, T. (2022). ”The Impact of Work and Family Conflicts on Productivity and Well-Being during Remote Work”. Journal of Workplace Behavior, 3(1), 1–20.

[4] Clark, S. C. (2000). “Work/family border theory: A new theory of work/family balance”. Human Relations 53, 6, 747–770.

[5] Gao, Z., Zhao, C. (2014). “Why is it difficult to balance work and family? An analysis based on work-family boundary theory”. Acta Psychologica Sinica, 46(4), 552–568.

[6] ibid.

[7] Carolan, S., Harris, P., Cavanagh, K. ”Improving Employee Well-Being and Effectiveness: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Web-Based Psychological Interventions Delivered in the Workplace”. J Med Internet Res 2017;19(7):e271

[8] Prochaska, J.O. et al. “The Well-Being Assessment for Productivity: A Well-Being Approach to Presenteeism”. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 53, 7, 2011, 735–42.

[9] Australian Government Productivity Commission (2020). “Mental Health Inquiry Report”.

[10] The Centre for Transformative Work Design (2022). “Research Streams and Projects”. Curtin University.

[11] Schaufeli. B., Taris. W. (2014). "A Critical Review of the Job Demands-Resources Model: Implications for Improving Work and Health"

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20/09/2022
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