Workers Facing Inflexible Office Returns Are Stressed Out And Anxious. Their Bosses? Not So Much.

As the pandemic threat recedes and more employers call workers back to the office, new data from a survey of 10,000 workers describes a “troubling double standard” in the realities that employees and their bosses face, with non-executives showing much steeper declines in measures of work-related stress, anxiety and work-life balance.

Future Forum, a research consortium on the future of work launched by Slack and other partners, released on Tuesday its latest Pulse survey of 10,000 knowledge workers globally. The consortium, which also spearheads a working group of executives to discuss future workplace issues, found that non-executives are nearly twice as likely as top managers to work from the office every day, and their work-life balance scores are now 40% worse than executive respondents. Workers also reported more than twice the level of stress and anxiety as top bosses.

There was also a sharp divide between the employee experience scores of workers who have full-time in-office mandates and those who have hybrid or remote options, with declines twice as steep for full-time office workers when it comes to work-life balance and 1.5 times as steep for scores on stress and anxiety, the survey found.

“Executives are embracing flexibility while they’re telling everybody else to come back to the office,” says Future Forum vice president Sheela Subramanian. “What we’re seeing is just a lot more rigidity, more top down mandates happening and executives are not necessarily setting that model from the top.

Meanwhile, Subramanian says, the overall declines in employee experience scores since its research last quarter come as some companies are requiring workers to revert to pre-pandemic approaches to office attendance. The new survey found that 34% of knowledge workers have gone back to working in the office daily, the largest share since the consortium began its research in June 2020.

Yet recent weeks have seen a wave of companies launch their hybrid returns to office, with many introducing policies that range from a few days a year to a few days a week onsite. At Overstock.com, most workers’ in-office mandates will be limited to a few days in the spring and late summer. Apple is easing workers in with a requirement of one day a week, which will grow to three days a week starting in May. Google has also said it expects workers to be in the office three days a week.

At Hewlett Packard Enterprise, which officially reopened its offices April 4, about 80% of its workforce is designated as hybrid, with no mandate for the number of days they should be in the office. These employees, as HPE CEO Antonio Neri wrote in a recent blog post, will be “working primarily remotely but encouraged to come into the office for collaboration.”

The company’s chief people officer, Alan May, says that HPE is doing more to articulate when those collaboration times might be. For instance, the tech firm asks leaders to meet with their employees every couple of months for targeted career, strategy and performance-metric discussions.

“We’re encouraging all of those to occur face-to-face where possible, in the office,” May tells Forbes. Collaboration events, meetings with customers and meetings designed to recognize workers should also be done in person, he says.

Yet at the same time, there’s “certainly not an edict or a quota on the number of days people have to show up,” he says.

Still, May says, they’re trying to make the office a draw, with a new headquarters in Houston that includes make-at-home meal kits to take home, large outdoor screens for movies, onsite health and fitness facilities and a pop-up “makerspace” with equipment like 3-D printers for workers to dabble in their own projects or attend workshops with peers.

Of the “makerspace,” May says, “it’s an additional amenity that I think, frankly, is a lot more thoughtful than just another foosball table.” People are excited to be back on the new campus together, but that doesn’t mean “they suddenly jumped back in five days a week,” he says. “I think those days are gone.”

“Actually I don’t think you come together to work. You do the work remotely. You come together to build social bonds.”

—Atlassian cofounder Scott Farquhar

Future Forum’s Subramanian agrees being flexible doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no role for the office. Despite all the focus on where people will be working, their new survey showed that when employees are expected to work may be even more important to workers than where. While 79% of respondents say they want location flexibility, 94% say they want to be able to choose the hours they work.

When making plans for coming together in person, she says, companies should create team-level agreements for a set of core hours and be “really intentional about why you’re getting together—rather than ‘you need to come into the office so I know that you’re working and responding to my messages quickly.’”

“Intentional” is exactly the word Scott Farquhar, Atlassian’s cofounder and No. 123 on our 2022 billionaires list, used when describing his software company’s strategy recently. In an interview with Forbes, Farquhar said details are still being hammered out, but he expects the direction to be that employees who don’t live near one of the company’s offices will travel about four times a year for what he calls “intentional togetherness.”

He says he doesn’t call it working together “because actually I don’t think you come together to work. You do the work remotely. You come together to build social bonds.” When people come together, “I think it does look much more like a conference you go to.

At Atlassian, the company allows people to work anywhere as long as three criteria are met: They’re legally allowed to work there, the company is legally allowed to employ them in that location, and the time zone works for their team, wherever people are based. Farquhar said about 10% of the company’s U.S. employees have moved states over the past 18 months, and 44% of its new hires in the U.S. in the past year live two or more hours from one of its main office locations.

Subramanian says it’s critical for companies with hybrid policies to set “behavioral guardrails,” as it’s “very easy for things to become inequitable.” That goes for executives, too. Ben Langis, head of workplace of the future at State Street, which has announced a hybrid work plan, says the giant asset manager has asked senior leaders to model the expectations it has for employees around working hybrid, and offers managers training on this new approach to work. “Everyone has to realize this is a large social experiment,” Langis says.

At Atlassian, where its Trello team has always had a remote-first approach to Zoom calls, if one person is remote, everyone else is join calls that way, too. That includes Farquhar: He once flew in from Australia for a town hall meeting at Trello’s offices but conducted it from a phone-booth sized room since some employees were dialing in remotely.

“I call it the Brady Bunch mentality,” he says. “Everyone has their own little box.”

Jena McGregor

I am in charge of Forbes’ leadership, careers, and workplace coverage.

Source: Workers Facing Inflexible Office Returns Are Stressed Out And Anxious. Their Bosses? Not So Much.

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Future Of Work: The 5 Biggest Workplace Trends In 2022

Much has been written about the huge changes in our working lives during the past two years – driven of course by necessity and concerns for safety. In 2022, the pandemic is very much still a fact of life for many of us. However, it’s fair to say that we’ve learned to adapt to new behavioral patterns and expectations as we do our jobs. If we are among the millions of “knowledge workers” who find ourselves with more freedom to choose when and where we work, then hopefully, we are making the most of the opportunity to strike a better balance between home and working life.

Of course, however much there is to write about the widespread shift away from offices and centralized workplaces, there are many occupations and professions where this simply isn’t an option. To frontline workers in healthcare, retail, teaching, transport, and security – among many other industries – buzzwords like “hybrid workplace” probably have very little impact on their day-to-day lives. But they are unlikely to remain untouched by other trends on this list, as technology opens up opportunities for new ways of working and continues to redefine the relationship between us and our workplaces.

Hybrid working

When it comes to where we work, there will continue to be three main models – centralized workplaces, decentralized remote organizations, and the hybrid “best of both worlds” approach. What’s likely to change in 2022 is that it’s more likely that we, as workers, will have the choice rather than being forced to align with whatever model your organization has chosen out of necessity.

Organizations are clearly undergoing a change in their relationship with the idea of a centralized workplace. At the height of the pandemic in 2020, 69% of large companies expected an overall decrease in the amount of office space they would be using, according to research by KPMG.

Hybrid structures will range from companies maintaining permanent centralized offices with hot-desking to accommodate the fact that staff will more frequently work remotely, to doing away with offices entirely and relying on co-working spaces and serviced meeting rooms to support the needs of a primarily remote workforce.

A report recently commissioned by video messaging platform Loom found that 90% of employees surveyed – including workers and managers – are happier with the increased freedom they now have to work from home, suggesting that this is likely to be a trend that is here to stay as we move into 2022.

AI-augmented workforceThe World Economic Forum predicts that AI and automation will lead to the creation of 97 million new jobs by 2025. However, people working in many existing jobs will also find their roles changing,  as they are increasingly expected to augment their own abilities with AI technology. Initially, this AI will primarily be used to automate repetitive elements of their day-to-day roles and allow workers to focus on areas that require a more human touch – creativity, imagination, high-level strategy, or emotional intelligence, for example.

Some examples include lawyers who will use technology that cuts down the amount of time spent reviewing case histories in order to find precedents, and doctors who will have computer vision capabilities to help them analyze medical records and scans to help them diagnose illness in patients. In retail, augmented analytics helps store managers with inventory planning and logistics and helps sales assistants predict what individual shoppers will be looking for when they walk through the door.

Marketers have an ever-growing range of tools at their disposal to help them target campaigns and segment audiences. And in engineering and manufacturing roles, workers will increasingly have access to technology that helps them understand how machinery works and predict where breakdowns are likely to happen.

Staffing for resilience

Pre-pandemic, the priority was generally to have been to hire staff that would create efficient organizations. Mid and post-pandemic, the emphasis has shifted firmly in the direction of resilience. Whereas built-in redundancy or overlaps in skills might previously have been seen as inefficient, today, it’s seen as a sensible precaution.

This certainly encompasses another sub-trend, which is that employers are coming to understand the critical importance of building employee healthcare and wellbeing (including mental health) strategies into their game plan. Many are now trying to take more responsibility for helping their workforce maintain physical, mental, and financial wellbeing. A challenge here that companies will come up against in 2022 is finding ways to do this that hit objectives without being overly intrusive or invasive of employees’ privacy and personal lives.

Ensuring a workforce is healthy enough to keep a business running is clearly a critical element of resilience, but it also covers the implementation of processes that are more flexible, with built-in redundancies to provide cover when disaster strikes, resulting in operational efficiency becoming compromised. These processes are sure to play an increasingly big part in the day-to-day lives of workers as we move through 2022.

Less focus on roles, more focus on skills

Gartner says, “To build the workforce you’ll need post-pandemic, focus less on roles – which group unrelated skills – than on the skills needed to drive the organization’s competitive advantage and the workflows that fuel this advantage.”

Skills are critical because they address core business challenges, with the competencies needed in a workforce to overcome those challenges. Roles, on the other hand, describe the way individual members of a workforce relate to an overall organizational structure or hierarchy. We’ve certainly seen this trend gestating for some time, with the move towards more “flat” organizational structures as opposed to strictly hierarchical teams with a direct reporting, chain-of-command approach to communication and problem-solving.

By focussing on skills, businesses address the fact that solving problems and answering their core business questions is the key to driving innovation and success within information-age enterprises.

From the worker’s point of view, focusing on developing their skills, rather than further developing their abilities to carry out their role, leaves them better positioned to capitalize on new career opportunities. This shift in focus from roles to skills is likely to be a key trend for both organizations and workers during 2022.

Employee monitoring and analytics

Controversial though it may be, research shows that employers are increasingly investing in technology designed to monitor and track the behavior of their employees in order to drive efficiency. Platforms such as Aware that allow businesses to monitor behavior across email and tools such as Slack in order to measure productivity, are being seen as particularly useful by managers overseeing remote workforces.

It builds on functionality created by earlier products such as Hitachi’s Business Microscope that tracked movements of staff around physical office blocks and could be used to monitor, among other things, how often bathroom breaks were taken, and which workers spend the most amount of time talking to others as opposed to sitting at their workstation.

Of course, it seems that it would be easy for companies to use these tools in a way that would be seen as overbearing or intrusive by their workers, and in my opinion, that would clearly be a recipe for disaster. However, ostensibly at least, the idea is to use them to gain broad oversights into workforce behavior rather than focus on individuals’ activity and use them as tools for enforcing discipline.

Companies that invest in this technology have a fine line to tread, and it remains to be seen whether the net effect will be a boost to productivity or a “chilling effect” on individual freedoms. If it’s the latter, it’s unlikely to end well for the companies involved. However, for better or worse, it seems likely that this kind of technology will play an increasingly large role in the workplace during 2022.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website or some of my other work here.

Bernard Marr is an internationally best-selling author, popular keynote speaker, futurist, and a strategic business & technology advisor to governments and companies. He helps organizations improve their

Source: Future Of Work: The 5 Biggest Workplace Trends In 2022

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5 Tiny But Impactful ‘Microaffirmations’ To Make Everyone on Your Team Feel Valued and Included

When it comes to making sure colleagues from different backgrounds feel comfortable at work, tiny things really do matter. We often hear about how “microaggressions” like always expecting female employees to organize birthday cards or questioning non-white colleagues about “where they’re from” can alienate, exhaust, and distract people at work.

But the opposite is also true. Even small actions and moments of thoughtfulness can make people feel welcome, valued, and included. New research out of the University of Kansas, for instance, found simply having male allies who spoke positively about gender equality helped make women working in unbalanced tech and science fields feel more supported.

Microaggressions matter, but so too do “microaffirmations.” These “are little ways that you can affirm someone’s identity; recognize and validate their experience and expertise; build confidence; develop trust; foster belonging; and support someone in their career,” according to Change Catalyst CEO Melinda Briana Epler, who has worked on diversity issues for 25 years.

Microaffirmations cost nothing and take mere seconds but can make a big difference to how well your company lives up to its ideals (and attracts and retains diverse talent). In a recent TED Ideas post, Epler laid out 13 of them, but here are five to get you started.

1. Mirror the language that someone uses to describe their own identity.

Can the fast-changing rules about the “right” words to use around sensitive subjects and identity markers seem confusing sometimes? Sure, but there’s an easy solution that doesn’t require keeping up with complicated theories or ever-changing debates. Just talk about people the way they talk about themselves.

“Listen and learn how someone pronounces their name, describes their identity and uses their pronouns. Then mirror the language they use to describe themselves — it shows them you’re paying attention and that you care about them,” instructs Epler.

2. Acknowledge important holidays and life milestones.

Not everyone in your office may celebrate the same holidays or tick through the same life milestones. But everyone you work with deserves to have the biggest occasions in their lives recognized by their colleagues.

“Keep an eye out for key moments that might be important in someone’s life, and recognize them. You might wish them a lovely Diwali if they celebrate it,” Epler offers as an example of a long list of potentially relevant occasions including Juneteenth, Ramadan, Yom Kippur, Pride Month, etc.

3. When someone isn’t participating, take notice and support them.

It’s easy to write off someone who is quiet in meetings or brainstorming sessions as simply short of courage or ideas, but if you do so, you’ll likely miss out on both valuable insights as well as a chance to bring out the best in your people.

“A person who is feeling marginalized or excluded, tokenized or like an impostor may sideline themselves — by not speaking up, not contributing, not showing up. In the remote workplace, people may turn off their video because they aren’t engaged, don’t have a home environment they want to show on video, feel excluded, or are burned out from inequities and exclusion. Check in with them, and see if and how you can support them,” advises Epler.

4. Invite someone to speak and share their expertise.

If you’re invited to speak on an all-white guy panel or notice a certain sameness in who gets chosen for the big presentations around your office, fixing that lack of diversity isn’t just in the hands of the organizers. Epler urges those with clout to help push forward underrecognized talent in their professional circles.

“If you’ve been invited to give a speech or presentation, ask if you can bring an expert colleague with you to the stage, or consider stepping back and recommending someone who isn’t often asked to speak,” she suggests, adding that “if you’re asking someone to share their expertise at a corporate event or at an event that makes a profit, make sure they are paid equitably for their expertise.”

5. Provide both positive feedback and constructive criticism.

Studies show that women in particular are often give only “nice” feedback that ignores areas for improvement and robs them of opportunities to learn and grow. So be cognizant of your constructive criticism and make sure you’re not shying away from sometimes awkward but ultimately beneficial conversations with certain members of your team.

On the other hand, Epler reminds bosses to also remember to mix praise for what’s positive in with notes on what to work on. “When I was in film school working with actors, one of my directing teachers taught us that you should always give an actor two to three pieces of specific positive feedback before providing negative or constructive feedback. It can make a big difference in their next performance,” she writes.

Author image for Jessica Stillman

Source: 5 Tiny but Impactful ‘Microaffirmations’ to Make Everyone on Your Team Feel Valued and Included | Inc.com

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3 Tips for Increasing Happiness at Work

Given that many of us will spend up to one-third of our lives at work, it’s not surprising that happiness at work is a topic of concern. Research shows that our happiness at work determines how motivated, productive, and engaged we are.

As an ACHIEVE trainer for the Psychological Safety in the Workplace workshop, I have had many discussions with participants and teams about workplace well-being and satisfaction. I am often asked, “What actions and circumstances best lead to happiness at work?” 

The answer? Happiness at work is complex. Various influences and factors contribute to our well-being at work including organizational culture, the alignment between our values and the organization’s, and the level of job compensation and security.

While some of these factors may be beyond our control, happiness can be enhanced through specific behavioural and cognitive practices, referred to in positive psychology as “positive interventions.”

Here are three positive interventions you can use to increase your happiness at work:

Strive for the Happiness Zone

Research shows that 40 percent of personal happiness results from our own actions, behaviours, and thought patterns. This 40 percent zone is where you have some control over your happiness and where practicing positive interventions will be most helpful. However, this practice will be different for everyone. Some people are happiest when they accomplish a goal at work, while others feel most happy when they are connected and collaborating with colleagues. It’s important to understand which activities contribute to individual happiness at work.

Prioritize the behaviours, actions, and conditions that lead to a sense of well-being during the workday.

One way to begin is to prioritize the behaviours, actions, and conditions that lead to a sense of well-being during the workday. Take note of activities that seem to uplift your mood during the week. Carefully observe your workdays, becoming mindful of the activities, behaviours, or situations that create a sense of a good day versus a bad day. Look for a pattern across the days and weeks. Are there certain activities, situations, or circumstances that consistently seem to contribute to a positive workday? Make a conscious effort to prioritizing doing more of them.

Focus on Meaningful Interactions

The importance of interpersonal connections at work is noted in ACHIEVE’s book, The Culture Question: How to Create a Workplace Where People Like to Work. People are more apt to feel satisfied and engaged when they have positive relationships at work.

A first step to creating meaningful connections at work is to improve your listening skills and increase the depth and value of your interactions. During a workplace interaction, consciously choose to actively listen to what someone has to say and invite them to share more during the conversation. Researchers refer to this as listening generously – we allow the person to have the entire spotlight to feel genuinely listened to and validated.

Simple responses like “That’s great, I’d like to hear more,” or “It sounds like this is important to you, I’d like to learn more,” can make a team member feel more valued, resulting in increased well-being at work. As the listener, you feel good too because you are creating a more meaningful interaction. Remember, the more connected and positive interactions we have with work colleagues, the happier our work experience.

Generate Gratitude

Completing a gratitude exercise even once a week has been proven to increase happiness over time. There is no better place to practice gratitude than at work, given the amount of time we spend there.

People are more apt to feel satisfied and engaged when they have positive relationships at work.

One of the most simple and effective ways to practice gratitude is by keeping a gratitude journal. Record the things in your workweek you felt grateful for. Examples may include compliments you received about your work, small wins or accomplishments, or completing a difficult task. To make this team-based, try keeping a gratitude jar.

Invite your colleagues to join you in recording things they are grateful for. Use sticky notes, or if you are a virtual team, post something on a virtual collaborative whiteboard. On Friday, go through the notes. The best part of this simple exercise is the immediate uplift in mood and perspective shift that occurs from recognizing just how many things went well during the workweek.

Workplace happiness takes effort and practice, but the result is improved well-being, greater productivity, and stronger workplace connections – all of which can result in decreased stress and more work satisfaction. Happiness at work is truly worth the effort.

By:Jennifer Kelly

Source: 3 Tips for Increasing Happiness at Work | ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership

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3 Critical Metrics You Need to Assess the Overall Health of Your Workplace

Early on in the summer, no one would fault you for exuberantly plotting your back-to-the-office plan. Hospitalizations for Covid-19 were waning and it suddenly seemed like life was once again approaching normal. However, with the more contagious Delta variant now spreading across the U.S., you’ll want to assess the potential health risks of opening up the office.

Here are a few questions you should ask yourself before bring employees back:

How safe is your physical workspace?

Your office or physical space may have been suitable for work prior to the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean it will be moving forward. One major example is air quality.

Business owners need to focus on having enhanced ventilation and filtration, says Dr. Joseph Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings program and an associate professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Breathing and talking constantly admit respiratory aerosols that can build up indoors unless diluted out of the air or cleaned out of the air through filtration. And most buildings are designed to a minimum standard that was never intended to be protection against infectious diseases.

Before fixing anything, though, you have to know what your system is doing. Dr. Allen recommends every company “commission” their building, a process by which the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems of a building are tested for performance and functionality. “It’s the equivalent of giving your car a tune-up every year, and it’s not done enough,” Dr. Allen says.

There are also many ways to measure and verify the performance of your building, he adds. You can hire a mechanical engineer to determine how much air flow you’re getting. Low-cost real-time sensors can be used to verify ventilation rates. In a typical building, carbon dioxide concentrations are going to be about 1,000 parts per million, and ideally to slow the rate of infection levels, they should be under 800 parts per million.

And fixes don’t have to be laborious or expensive. Bringing a bit more outdoor air in can be as easy as opening windows or spending a couple of dollars to upgrade to quality air filters such as MERV 13 filters. Portable air filters are a bit more expensive at roughly $100 a piece, but they can greatly improve air quality.

How many employees are vaccinated?

You can absolutely ask employees whether they’re vaccinated, and if you’re bringing people back, or considering doing so, it’s not a bad idea. Northwell Health has done numerous surveys to assess their 15,000-person workforce to determine who is vaccinated and the reasons why those who have not gotten the vaccine are hesitant.

“When we started evaluating metrics around why people weren’t getting vaccinated, we got better insight into how to communicate with them and manage our concern,” says Joseph Moscola, executive vice president of enterprise services at Northwell Health.

One survey revealed that 7 percent of Northwell’s workforce didn’t get vaccinated because they were scared of needles. So the company crafted safe environments with music and comfortable chairs to help make the experience more inviting for those employees. Moscola says Northwell is aiming for a vaccination rate of 90 percent or higher before it considers its space safe. Currently 77 percent of Northwell’s 75,000 employees are fully vaccinated.

Also remind people of the risks of not getting a jab. While a vaccinated individual may still get Covid, they’re significantly less likely to have severe symptoms or be at risk of hospitalization than unvaccinated folks. That’s why it’s crucial to continue to encourage workers with any symptoms to stay home and get tested, as well as follow CDC and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) directives in the workplace. It’s also crucial to educate employees and your community on the advantages of vaccination.

Are employees are taking care of themselves?

One way to stay abreast of the physical health of employees is to check in and see if they’re taking care of themselves. This can be done through surveys, asking people if they describe themselves as healthy and well and also how often they take advantage of any medical benefits.

Self-insured employers also have access to claims data through their third-party administrator that can share general information like what percentage of employees had a primary care visit in the past 12 months, or what percentage of people have been seriously hospitalized, says Dr. Shantanu Nundy, chief medical officer at Accolade, a benefit provider for health care workers.

Consider also assessing how employees are doing mentally, he adds. You can ask employees to take surveys such as the Maslach Burnout Inventory, a psychological assessment comprising 22 symptom items pertaining to occupational burnout; the PHQ-9, a nine-question questionnaire measuring depression; and the GAD seven, a seven-item questionnaire measuring anxiety. Employees may not feel comfortable sharing this information, so it’s best to make it optional and tell employees that results are kept confidential.

Want some more information and tips?

Find more information on what you can do as an organization, manager or employee:

“While a lot of people are dealing with clinical depression or clinical anxiety, many are dealing with a new kind of emotional stress due to the pandemic, which can include not feeling safe or heard or included in the workplace,” says Dr. Nundy. “These surveys can offer a comprehensive clinical health and environmental view of how your workforce is doing.”

Source: 3 Critical Metrics You Need to Assess the Overall Health of Your Workplace | Inc.com

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How managers can shape ‘healthy hybrid’ working

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Mental health: the costs to employees and businesses.

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