It was approximately a month ago that WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani sparked a backlash by stating confidently, “only the least engaged employees want to continue working from home.” The news cycle was relentless in pointing out that Mathrani’s comments were insensitive or inaccurate. I even pointed out in my recent column, that Mathrani had no data to back up his claim. However, a new, yet to be published study contains a surprising data point that backs up (at least partially) Mathrani’s claim. According to the study, remote employees do in fact feel less engaged.
The study is being done by audience engagement technology company, Emotive Technologies which conducted the behavioral-based in-depth survey of 395 workers at two time points, measuring both what drives their engagement and their current level of work engagement. The study is being conducted using the APEX scoring system which is backed by academic institutions including Harvard, Columbia, and UC Berkeley and includes a mix of gender and ethnicities while focusing on an average salary of $56,863.17 and an average age of 38.51 years. The study was conducted from April-May 2021 as some employees continue to work from home and others started returning to some form of office work or hybrid combination.
A Feeling Of “Time Scarcity” May Be The Reason Remote Workers Feel Less Engaged
According to the study, employees who reported that they primarily work remotely expressed feeling nearly two times or 182% less engaged than workers who reported that they primarily work in person. Analysis of the study reveals that experiencing a feeling of ‘time scarcity” has something to do with the lower level of engagement of remote workers when compared to their in-person peers. Many workers deal with feelings of not having enough time in the day to complete tasks but it is remote workers who show a 49% increase of non-engagement that is connected to grappling with feelings around time scarcity. Dr. Nick Hobson, PHD and Chief Scientist at Emotive who specializes in behavioral science and is leading the study ponders the implications: “more than ever before, it is critical that organizations and leaders understand and positively impact their employees’ well being and productivity…so too are workplace leaders and HR execs beginning to ask the “why” of the employee experience. Why are certain employees less engaged? Why is the risk of burnout at an all-time high? Why are we seeing people leave their high-paying jobs? Where do meaning and purpose fit into the employee lifecycle?” As the study suggests, working remotely does not guarantee employees will feel more engaged — perhaps just the opposite. And to make matters even more complex, a separate poll conducted by morning consult shows that the majority of employees they spoke to feel that their productivity while working from home is largely the same (with the notable exception of Mexico) with lesser percentages of employees reporting they were either more or less productive when compared to in-person work (only 20% of U.S. workers reported more productivity).
When It Comes To Engagement, “Fit” Trumps Remote Work And Pay
Some employees are telling employers that they want to work remotely above all else and employers are wrestling with the idea. While a handful of Apple employees circulated a memo pushing back on return to office policies, Facebook, in contrast, announced that all employees who want to work remotely would be permitted to do so. Facebook’s gesture may be designed to maximize talent retention as some employees express they would rather quit than return to the commute and office life. Recent reports suggest that up to 40% of employees are considering switching jobs, prompting the “Great Resignation.” Emotive’s study suggests that there is a retention factor that transcends the debate between remote and office work — it is the feeling of “fit” and the belief that one’s values and personality match the values and personality of the organization they are employed with. Emotive’s Dr. Hobson elaborates: “We found that one driver — by far — explaining how employee engagement develops is the perception of “fit” with the organization. Employees who scored in the top half of fit were 209% more engaged than employees who scored in the bottom half of fit” In fact, the aforementioned study suggests that fit is 674 times more effective in increasing employment than paying employees more money. Dr. Hobson adds: “trying to increase employee engagement with money alone would be a difficult (and very expensive) endeavor compared to leading change to foster higher levels of fit”.
What About The Total Workforce?
So while remote work is no guarantee for employee engagement, and “fit” may be the ultimate predictor of engagement (and possibly retention) — what does this mean for “other” kinds of employees who may be contingent, contractors, freelancers, or part-time? According to Kevin Akeroyd, CEO at PRO Unlimited, a modern workforce management solutions provider, by the third quarter of 2020, they saw contingent work increase by 9% over pre-Covid levels. By the end of the first quarter in 2021, that figure rose to 15% above pre-Covid levels. Kevin underscores the notion of taking a “total talent” view of the workforce, including contingent/contract employees or those that are not part of the full-time employee headcount: “Traditional approaches to employee experience and employer brand building that fail to look beyond full-time employees to contingent, contractor and freelancers risk missing the single biggest moment in talent transformation of the past decade. Creating engagement of your total talent pool, regardless of location or employment status has never been more important for building growth and optimizing cost in the modern enterprise.” At this point, it’s unclear how engagement levels could influence non-full-time employees, but it’s worth noting that this considerable group is also part of the total workforce which isn’t reflected in the study.
Previous surveys such LinkedIn’s US Work Confidence index indicated that work flexibility (including remote options) was the number one priority for the employees they polled. But Emotive Technologies’ study, with a focus on behavioral science, may unearth some deeper truths about what it means to have truly engaged employees. Whether they work remotely or not — employees want above all else, to feel a sense of belonging, purpose, and fit when it comes to working for a company. Ideally, it’s one that reflects their own personal values and beliefs.