Surprise! Workplace issues up, even with work-from-home


Feeling the crunch, HR pros? You should, considering you likely handled more workplace issues during the pandemic than before it.

In a year you might think HR-related incidents would drop, they rose, according to recent research from Paychex. Almost 60% of HR managers said the number of issues reported to them climbed since the pandemic started. About a quarter of the managers said the number stayed the same.

And these weren’t tiny infractions. Almost 45% of employees received some kind of discipline while working from home, the researchers said.

It seems impossible, doesn’t it?!

After all, many employees worked remotely. Those who worked on site were supposed to be 6 feet apart at all times and behind masks.

Wouldn’t that naturally lead to fewer conflicts, less turmoil, and better behavior? And how could there be space for harassment, hostility, or even gossip?

“The pandemic has generally been a time of heightened stress and economic uncertainty for many businesses and professionals, so perhaps this environment leads to greater agitation among and between employees,” says Nina Nelson, HR services area manager at Paychex. Employees may also struggle with striking a balance between personal obligations and work duties due to remote work arrangements.”

Five types of incidents bubbled up more frequently. With that, employee expectations changed about how HR should help them navigate the issues.

The good news is employees are confident you’ll be able to handle it. More than 75% said their HR pros are already handling things well at their companies.

Here are the trending issues – and tips on how to address them.

1. Employee disputes

HR leaders in the Paychex study said employee disputes was one of the top issue reported in the past year. Employees are bickering more than ever.

Why? It might be the stress of the pandemic, increased workloads, or miscommunication caused by less face-to-face interaction. But employees – whether they’re together or apart – still argue and need management intervention.

“We also found that 31.9% of employees believe that HR is responsible for ensuring there’s no cyberbullying at work, so it’s possible that there’s some connection between the rise in employee disputes and perceived cyberbullying,” says Nelson.

Address it: Unfortunately, employee disputes can sometimes escalate into harassment or hostility will continue even as employees are hybrid or remote. It can take the form of cyberbullying. You’ll likely need to address this more specifically in your workplace harassment policies and protocols. Regardless of where employees work, everyone will need to sign off on policies annually, too.

2. Employee benefits

Employees called more on HR about issues and help with their benefits while they worked from home.

We don’t have to look far to know why there was an increase in benefits issues. Several independent studies have shown a big uptick in requests for mental health benefits. Employees tapped resources and asked for guidance to help more than ever.

Address it: Mental health benefits will likely continue to be increasingly important to employees. But it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. Talk with employees about the kinds of benefits, resources, and tools they need. A recent college grad working out of his parent’s basement will likely have different needs than a married woman with school-age children.

3. Workplace safety

Employees were concerned about health and safety from the onset of the pandemic – and they continue to be today.

However, their concerns have shifted. When they were first sent home, many worried about remote working conditions – Will I be comfortable? How can I do my work without my stuff? Who can I turn to for help?

Now, they’re concerned again about health and safety on site – Are my colleagues vaccinated? Is the office air filtered? Are the surfaces clean?

Address it: Many HR pros formed – or were part of – in-house safety committees that stayed on top of changing CDC guidelines and recommendations. Then they helped their organization stay in compliance. The most important part of doing this is to regularly update employees on the changes and how your organization responds.

And for hybrid employees, it’ll continue to be important to give them guidance on staying safe and healthy at home. Send regular tips on good ergonomics and home-based working practices.

4. Work-from-home technology

Whether employees worked from home all the time or some of the time, they had technology issues – and told HR about it. Most wanted HR to find a fix. And, in many cases, IT or homebound employees had to find the fix.

While technology, bandwidth, and ability to get help improved since March 2020, tech issues will likely stick around.

Address it: The number of hybrid workers will increase. In fact, many employees say they’ll leave jobs if they can’t work from home for at least part of the time. So they’d like HR to ensure they have everything they need to work from home successfully. And it’s to your advantage that they do: You can help them maintain or improve productivity while not on site.

Start simple: Survey employees who’ve worked off-site for the last year to establish a work-from-home essentials baseline. Create checklists based on that, and collaborate with employees to make sure they have the minimum.

5. Employee stress

Personal, private, or professional, people everywhere faced more stress in the past year – and many of them turned to HR to help. Some employees in the study cited being denied time off an issue that contributed to their stress.

In many cases, this issue boiled down to work-life balance. Employees increasingly felt overwhelmed by one – or both – and it bled into the other. It was especially true for people who worked from home. They often can’t find the dividing line between work and life.

Address it: In addition to promoting your mental health resources, HR will want to encourage practical stress management practices – such as physically shutting down, putting work out of sight, and walking away from it each day at a regular time (whether in the office or home). Also, steer them to – or better, provide free – yoga, meditation, exercise, and other healthy forms of stress relief.

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