UK staff have admitted they can get away with an average of two hours 20 minutes less work per day, because line managers are struggling to adapt to the remote working habits of the Covid-19 era.
Following a poll of 2,000 professionals who are all currently employed – ie, neither furloughed, nor serving out notice – workforce behaviour consultants Mind Gym warned that employees taking advantage of remote working patterns to disguise slack in their schedules could trigger a ‘productivity collapse’. (Mind Gym, 9 June 2020)
According to the poll, almost half (43%) of respondents said they can carry out more than two hours less work per day without their line managers noticing. It also found:
- a third (37%) of UK workers are less motivated in their jobs and, as a result, 30% admit to being less productive;
- half claim that their managers have had no impact on their performance whatsoever during remote working;
- almost a fifth (19%) claim that their managers have had a negative impact on their work;
- more than a quarter (28%) cite either a clear lack of guidance or boredom with tasks as key to their disengagement;
- more than a fifth (22%) claim to “not know what’s going on” within their immediate teams on a day-to-day basis.
In addition, a quarter feel “tired and exhausted” from working from home, while one in five are suffering from loneliness.
Mind Gym says that, with UK Plc facing a productivity drop of 30% per week as a result of these issues, there is a business-critical need for stronger leadership as remote working continues.
Its co-founder and CEO Octavius Black said: “Given the anxiety from lockdown and the ineffectiveness of managers in this new environment, masses of UK workers are likely either to opt out or burn out. The impact on UK’s productivity would be catastrophic. The way to prevent this crisis is not to stop remote working – which, when properly handled, can bring great benefits – but for leaders to step up and develop the new managerial muscles needed to lead effectively in this turbulent era.
He added: “Those taking steps now will safeguard their teams and businesses. The rest won’t realise the damage until it is too late to recover. Company bosses who want to prevent a productivity collapse tomorrow, must give top priority to supporting their managers today.”
Is stronger leadership, as Black suggests, the key to line managers having a more effective approach to remote working?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “Although they’re not supported by our own research in this field in terms of the severity of the problems, Mind Gym’s findings do highlight some of the difficulties associated with leading and managing people you don’t see. And as is so often the case when research flags up trends that are less than ideal, someone – in this case, Mind Gym’s CEO – thinks that the solution is ‘stronger leadership’. But, I wonder, what does he actually mean by that?”
Cooper asks: “When you’re trying to manage people who are working in difficult circumstances, who perhaps don’t have proper workspaces, aren’t used to homeworking and may not have the correct technology – all of the issues that have been revealed as key challenges at this time – how is ‘stronger leadership’ going to fix them? It would help if the term were more clearly defined, so one could properly assess its effectiveness as a panacea. More pressingly, though, what I think we need here is a more compassionate approach, in the mould of servant leadership, which starts from the position: ‘What do you need from me to be good, and do the best work you can?’”
She adds: “What Black seems to be advocating is a type of micromanagement that runs absolutely contrary to what today’s workforce wants. The primary benefit of homeworking, remote working or distributed teams – whatever you want to call it – is that sense of autonomy. If you’re being overmanaged, you are not going to feel that benefit and the sense of trust it brings – and trust is one, critical factor that tends to result in improved productivity. So even if we know what Black means by strong leadership, how is that a solution to understanding the challenges that people are currently facing?”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on delivering outcomes