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Employees Use Performative Tactics to Show They’re Working

BambooHR, the leading cloud-based human resource platform, has released a new study on the state of RTO sentiment, showing that nearly one in three (32%) managers admit the main goal for RTO policies is to track employees. One in four VP and C-suite executives and one in five (18%) HR professionals admit they hoped for some voluntary turnover during an RTO. Now, both remote (88%) and in-office (79%) employees feel the need to prove they are online and working.  

“The conversation around work modes is one of the most important things to address and get clear on as a business,” says Anita Grantham, head of HR at BambooHR. “It often gets reduced to just RTO, but it’s a much bigger conversation around how teams best work together and is a leader-led initiative. RTO is one of many different work modes, and if a change in work modes is needed, it’s important to handle the transition thoughtfully. Any hasty change to an employee’s work mode can leave your company culture in a precarious situation where employees are not unified, management teams are seen as overlords, and employee satisfaction will continue to nosedive.”  

Hybrid work and RTO mandates have unexpected consequences that have office culture shifting to performative tactics where just under half (42%) of all employees feel they’re showing up solely for the purpose of being seen by their bosses and managers. Employees are adopting various strategies to put on a show, whether working remotely or on-site. Here’s how they ensure their efforts are visible.  

  • Approximately 37% of in-office employees walk around the office so co-workers can see them.  
  • An additional 35% plan meetings with other coworkers who are also in the office.  
  • Further, 33% show up earlier or leave later than their manager.  
  • Among remote employees, 39% participate in social conversations in work messaging apps, while 31% schedule-send emails.  
  • Additionally, 64% of remote workers admit to keeping work messaging apps perpetually open, displaying a green “active” status to imply they’re online and actively engaging in work, even when they may not be actively working.  
  • While all workers are taking steps to demonstrate productivity, it’s among remote employees that the “green status effect” has emerged.  

Many leaders are using RTO as a tactic to increase productivity in employees or even prod employees to quit, leaving HR teams (22%) without clear metrics to measure a successful RTO. It’s clear these efforts are not producing the desired results.  

Nearly two in five (37%) managers, directors, and executives believe their organizations enacted layoffs in the last year because fewer employees quit than they expected during their RTO. Nearly a third (32%) of managers admit the desire to track employee work was a main goal for their company’s RTO. Nearly half of managers say that the main goal of their company’s RTO was improving company culture (46%).  

Both in-office and remote workers only work for around three-quarters (76%) of a regular shift; the other quarter is spent socializing, procrastinating, or doing non-work tasks. Put simply, all workers typically spend two hours of every eight-hour shift not working.  

When it comes to who’s more productive overall, in-office workers spend around one hour more socializing than their remote counterparts, while remote workers spend that time on work-related tasks and responsibilities. Since having an RTO mandate, more than a fourth (26%) say a greater divide has developed between remote and non-remote workers.  

“The disturbing and performative cultures some companies are cultivating are harmful to bottom-line growth and it’s becoming clearer that leaders should take each employee’s experience into account,” Grantham says. “It’s okay to have broad RTO policies but when 61% of parents and caretakers who prefer remote work say it’s because it allows them to fulfill their family responsibilities (versus 38% of non-caretakers) and 63% of workers with disabilities prefer remote work, individual exceptions make sense. We’re striving for a balance between the needs of the organization and the needs of the humans we work with.”

Tags: Productivity, Remote Work, RTO

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