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.
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. Other studies highlight the challenges of remote work, such as isolation, fatigue and technological faults.
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”.
Psychological states between work life and family life are in constant conflict, according to a respected psychological theory. 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:
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. 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.
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.
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.
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:
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. Practical ways leaders and human resource functions can promote ongoing good work design include:
There are some more tactical changes that can be implemented quickly:
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.
Published on 20 September 2022.
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