We Need a Hero: HR and the ‘Next Normal’ Workplace – Kulik – – Human Resource Management Journal
2.3.1 The COVID-19 call to action
A company-sponsored survey of more than 6,000 EY employees working from home during the pandemic showed “a split in the middle of whose well-being has improved and whose well-being has declined” (Tadros, 2020, p. 30). This fracture is not a new phenomenon. Studies published long before the pandemic showed that working from home can increase positive emotions like happiness and joy, but these emotional surges are more likely to be experienced by highly connected employees. outside labor (Anderson et al., 2015). During the pandemic, we saw the divide more clearly: the highest levels of loneliness were reported by remote workers living in single-person housing (Kulik and Sinha, 2020). Working from home gives employees the opportunity to bond outside of work (for example, having lunch with a friend or reading a story with a child). But if employees do not have these external relationships, contact with colleagues is an essential source of support.
2.3.2 The HR opportunity
In the next standard, one way HR practitioners can protect the well-being of workers is to create more opportunities for employees to choose where they work; ideally, employees with the strongest jobless ties would choose to work remotely and employees with the weaker jobless ties would opt for the office. Indeed, employee choice has a major impact on the psychological and productivity benefits of working from home (Bloom et al., 2015). However, working from home is contagious – people who initially aren’t interested in working from home start doing it because their colleagues work from home (Rockmann & Pratt, 2015). As more people work from home, the office will become increasingly impersonal and less likely to deliver value to employees who seek connections. Quoting a senior executive, Trinca (2020) asks: “If you only have 30% of the staff returning, is it an office or is it just a very quiet place to work?” When organizations encourage remote working, they risk fostering employee loneliness (Ozcelik & Barsade, 2018) – a serious concern because the association of loneliness with mortality and disease puts it in the same league as smoking, obesity and alcoholism (Holt-Lunstad et al., 2017).
Managerial concerns that remote working reduces collaboration and slows employee development is sparking interest in hybrid models, where employees work 3 days in the office and 2 at home (Cutter, 2020; Kitney, 2020). Researchers have recommended these hybrid models (New Zealand Work Research Institute, 2013) to benefit from the advantages of working from home (more concentrated time for in-depth work) alongside those of the office environment (more collaboration with colleagues) (Felstead & Henseke, 2017). Hybrid models could create opportunities for spontaneous conversations, reducing loneliness and improving employee well-being. Employees who participate in office chatting experience more positive emotions, go out of their way to help colleagues, and end the work day in a better state of mind (Methot et al., 2020); these interactions are particularly important for younger and early career employees (Lindzon, 2021).
However, the benefits of hybrid models will only be realized if work-based social connectivity is embedded in organizational culture. Research shows that interrelated HR policies and practices create relationship-driven cultures (Six & Sorge, 2008): value statements that express the organization’s commitment to its employees, welcoming activities for new employees that use relational language, organizational training that teaches employees to constructively manage interpersonal conflicts and standards that encourage public compliments to colleagues. These HR activities will nurture relationship cultures within hybrid models as organizations organize home and office work planning. Flexible working arrangements can and should be designed collectively at the team level (Leana et al., 2009; Tim et al., 2013). For example, these psychologically secure A / B teams might be empowered to initiate a personalized overhaul of their interactive work, with team members jointly responsible for ensuring that the design would be equally effective when working in the office or outside (Bernstein et al., 2020).
In addition, professional relationships do not need to be limited to colleagues. Employees are motivated to perform well when they have direct access to internal and external “customers” who receive their work (Hackman & Oldham, 1980), or to “beneficiaries” impacted by their work (Grant, 2008). But many of those connections have been lost or strained due to the social distancing requirements of the pandemic (ABC News, 2020; Conveying, 2020). HR practitioners need to build relationships directly in the jobs of the next normal, reconnect workers with the people they serve, and give workers greater flexibility to meet the needs of their clients, clients and beneficiaries. For example, Australian telecommunications company Optus has accelerated an Experts @ Home program that is expected to continue beyond pandemic lockdowns (Boleyn, 2020; Fernyhough, 2020). The program gives employees a technological toolkit that allows them to work from home, but it also creates more meaningful jobs (promoting staff mental health and purpose) and better customer service (giving staff more. latitude to solve customers’ problems). HR practices in call centers are “known” to generate absenteeism, burnout and employee turnover (Lee, Batt, & Moynihan, 2019, p. 531). HR could be the force repositioning call center work as desirable, simultaneously giving employees the ability to work from home and the opportunity for meaningful customer contact. The academic literature provides tantalizing, but self-sufficient, examples of ways in which call center employees can act authentically and personalize the service they provide to customers (Cable et al., 2013).