The Unspoken Reason Workers Want To Stay Remote


As we put Labor Day 2022 behind us every business leader is grappling with how people work — remote, hybrid, back to the office. The issues at stake are serious: productivity, job satisfaction, culture-building, work-life issues, parenting, and fairness to those who have to be on site. It’s a long list — but it’s incomplete. I’ve been looking at fresh data indicating there’s a critical factor that’s largely ignored: psychological safety. Some workers don’t feel included and respected at their workplace. No wonder they don’t want to go back.

The future of on-site work may not be certain, but the general direction certainly is. The latest Gallup research says that more than half of full-time workers in the U.S. — 70 million American adults — say their jobs can be done remotely. Eighty percent of them — 56 million full-time workers — are currently working entirely remotely or on a hybrid schedule. And almost no one wants to be on-site all the time. Only 6% of full-time workers whose jobs can be remote prefer total on-site work. Remote work is part of every recruiting conversation and every retention turning point.

Determining your go-forward policy means understanding the data — all of it. The psychological safety data I’m seeing is from my company’s workforce psychology research, one of two Self-Check studies we field to thousands of workers each year. It says that employees working on-site are less likely to feel at ease discussing difficult topics or taking risks. They are less likely to feel that team members respect and value each other. On-site employees are 66% more likely to feel like workplace mistakes are held against them. They are 56% more likely to say that people are rejected for being different and 36% more likely to find it difficult to ask teammates for help. And let’s face it: If people don’t want to be in the room — for psychological safety or whatever reason — the stress will fall on your managers and performance will suffer.

The psychological safety results stood up across age, gender, race/ethnicity, or other factors that might explain the differences. No matter how we cut the data, remote/hybrid employees consistently report feeling greater psychological safety than onsite employees do.

Hidden in the neutral language of the survey are deep emotions. Psychological safety, first studied by professor Amy Edmondson, was ostensibly about team behavior, but because it’s about inclusion, it effectively encompasses exclusion: that means gender, race, sexuality, introversion, and even personal style — the full range of interpersonal challenges.

This data matches other studies. A 2021 McKinsey report unearthed the considerable disconnect between employers and employees about why people resign. Employers saw it as transactional: it must be pay and perks. “By contrast,” the report says, “the top three factors employees cited as reasons for quitting were that they didn’t feel valued by their organizations (54 percent) or their managers (52 percent) or because they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work (51 percent). Notably, employees who classified themselves as non-White or multiracial were more likely than their White counterparts to say they had left because they didn’t feel they belonged at their companies.” That’s about psychological safety.

New Data, New Mindset

For any leader, that’s valuable information. It can shape how you shape your team. It can lead you to continue the hard work of keeping prejudice and bullying out of your workplace. Of making sure the introverts’ ideas are heard. Here are three ways to integrate new information into your workplace policies.

1. Reframe the problem

Some people’s preference for working at home may be coming from a deeper place than the desire to not have their manager looking over their shoulder or wanting to be able to mix some parenting into what used to be “working hours.” Expand the frame to include the emotional toll the workplace takes on some workers.

2. Respect the potential

Some people are more comfortable and even more valuable when they’re off-site. If they’re not forced to go to the workplace, those team members can become a force for growth. That’s untapped potential.

3. Reinforce the positive

Strong teams make strong companies. If a significant part of your workforce feels unheard or left out, addressing the underlying issues can make a difference. You don’t want to lose the creativity and collegiality that comes from people working with people. The strongest teams have diverse talents, personalities, motivations, and personal presence — that’s a positive. But it takes practiced psychological skills for all team members to build on each other’s strengths. Reinforcing those skills so your team is strong whatever the workplace circumstance should be part of every leader’s hybrid work plan.

This article was originally published on Forbes. Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website or some of my other work here.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post