Employers urged to tackle traditional office culture

New research from the Chartered Management Institute and the Work Foundation says more needs to be done to tackle managers’ default bias in favour of office workers.

Am I being pushed out

Two young malicious employees gossiping about their hard-working colleague in the office

Employers could undo the progress made over the last 18 months and deepen workplace inequalities if organisations fail to override the deep-rooted perceptions about ‘office culture’, a leading think tank has warned.

New research, led by the Work Foundation and the Chartered Management Institute, finds that ‘traditional’ views of the workplace persist, with managers expecting that access to stretch projects and workplace networks will decrease with remote or hybrid working and exacerbate already existing inequalities in the workplace.

The  analysis is based on surveys of 964 Chartered Management Institute managers, 1,000 UK workers and interviews with organisations representing women, disabled people and those with parenting or caring responsibilities within the workplace.

It shows more than half of managers currently have the power to decide which employees can work remotely (55%), when staff should be present at the office (63%), working time during the day (53%) and expectations for staff responsiveness (53%).

However, one in five (20%) employees whose line managers make the decision for them are not happy with their working arrangement. Only 59% of workers whose line manager has formal decision-making powers over remote working requests are comfortable to ask to work remotely, with women being less comfortable and less likely than men to feel their organisation is inclusive of remote workers.

The research findings also indicate disabled workers, female workers, parents and carers could face particular challenges when working remotely, due to isolation from the office and potentially missing out on opportunities for learning and development.

Ann Francke, Chief Executive of the Chartered Management Institute, said: “This research highlights a real mismatch in attitudes to hybrid-working between some managers and their teams and it seems that some managers need to wake up and smell the coffee.  Managers need to take account of the new reality of employees wanting to work in more flexible ways, they need to support it, vocalise their support and ensure that remote workers aren’t disadvantaged, especially given the increased competition for talent employers face.

“We’ve seen during the pandemic how greater flexibility in working practices can boost productivity, help with everyone’s work-life balance and worker wellbeing.

“Engaging with employees to understand and then implement best-fit working practices is a prime example of good management. Managers will have happier, more productive, more loyal teams – and a healthier business – as a result.”

The Work Foundation is calling on the Government to develop an employer campaign and accreditation programme to promote inclusive flexible working practices; require that large employers share information on their approach to flexible work and their progress in encouraging take-up across their organisation; support the development of management capability in providing inclusive hybrid work; make flexible working the default position for all employees, with flexible options included in all job adverts, unless employers have a sound business reason for an exemption; and prioritise inclusive employers within funding and procurement exercises, by requiring that organisations with more than 50 employees and a turnover over £10m produce an up to date hybrid and flexible working strategy and action plan which prioritises inclusion as part of the application for any public procurement or Government grants.

The Work Foundation also wants to see managers consult with staff to develop an approach to remote and flexible work; experiment and engage with staff to find an approach that works; consider introducing an organisational “Right to Disconnect” policy; be a role model; increase take-up of flexible working arrangements among men; ensure managers are adequately trained and prepared to manage hybrid teams and role model hybrid working; and develop action plans around hybrid and remote working which prioritise diversity and inclusion and publicise hybrid working goals and policies.

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