When we first entered the strange world of COVID – which now feels like the norm – the general feeling from businesses, communities and people alike was “We’re all in this together” however more than a year on, that feeling has reduced and left a taste of resentment in the air.
Don’t worry we’re not going to talk about essential workers versus non-essential workers and certain public pay rises.
HR expert Vicky Murphy is going to discuss the possibility of resentment being created in your workforce when you have some staff who can work from home and others who can’t due to the nature of their role, and how you can resolve this.
For the purpose of this article, we are going to use a hypothetical scenario.
Gillian owns a retail business (in-store and online) and manages a team of twenty, renting a shop front and back office. Ten of her team are in front of house customer adviser positions and therefore are needed physically in the workplace. Ten of her team manage back-office operations like Marketing, Accounting, HR and Logistics so can work from home.
During the pandemic the office (above her shop) that the back office team would normally use was empty and therefore to save costs Gillian decided to this was no longer needed.
Recently Gillian has noticed that some of her front of house team have been showing signs of unhappiness and detachment from the business which is affecting their performance. Bobby has started leaving the store earlier than the official end of his shift. Rachel, who has ten years of service has stopped speaking at team meetings and has a different attitude every Monday. Gillian has even overheard Stephanie in the staffroom talking about how those at home have it so easy and saying negative things about how the company treat the font of house staff. Whilst the other seven front of house staff are as happy as ever in their role.
On the other hand, Gillian has noticed that the staff working remotely have started copying her in on unnecessary e-mails and seem to be arranging a lot of virtual meetings. She has also heard rumours that Emma, who works remotely is applying for other jobs.
Gillian prides herself on being an employer of choice. She promotes a work-life balance, has a generous benefits package, pays her staff the maximum the business can reasonably afford so what is she doing wrong?
It turns out that several members of the on-site team resent the fact that others now work from home. This would be an easy fix if everyone could work from home but that’s simply not possible due to the type of business Gillian runs and due to the individual roles people hold.
It also turns out that Emma hates working remotely, she lives on her own and enjoyed the social aspect of being in the office.
So what can Gillian do? To manage this situation effectively, Gillian needs to look deeper into the situation and find out what is at the core of this resentment.
1. Start With Open Frank Discussions
Whilst most of us hate having awkward conversations, as soon as you notice a sign of an employee feeling resentment towards others you need to nip it in the bud and have an open and honest conversation. Resentment, especially in the circumstances of Gillian’s business, start with one or a few members of the team but then these individuals complain to other staff who they feel should ‘be on their side’ and more often than not resentment spreads.
An open discussion will give you insight into what’s really going on and also show your staff that you care.
In Gillian’s case, these frank discussions need to also explain the company’s position; why some roles are suited to work from home, cost savings involved, productively increased etc… Gillian could ask “considering the need for you to be physically present in your role what would flexible working look like for you?”
Perhaps Bobby is avoiding rush hour, would he like to start early or not take a break and be able to leave earlier every day.
Maybe Rachel has a personal issue on Monday’s and would like to consider condensing her working hours into four days rather than five?
Perhaps Stephanie is frustrated that she can’t skip her commute and work in pyjamas. In this case, maybe it’s time to talk about Stephanie’s future career. If working remotely is one of her career goals, maybe Gillian can work with her to develop a career plan that leads to a role that can be carried out at home – whether it is in her business or not.
Speaking to the staff working remotely to communicate that Gillian isn’t worried about them not working and there isn’t a need for them to be justifying their workload.
A conversation with Emma would highlight that Emma would be happier with the option of working on-site. Could Gillian make space on-site for Emma to work there some of the time, or could Emma job share with another member of the team who works in front of house?
Simply showing staff that she wants to be as flexible and supportive as the business allows, will show the front of house team and the back of house team that they are as important as each other. It’s also important to point out that there are some roles that simply can’t be adjusted.
2. Bust The Myths
Resentment is often caused by misconceptions and a lack of understanding of what it’s like to be in the other person’s shoes – after all the grass isn’t always greener on the other side!
· Abusing work from home privileges.
There is often a mistaken belief that people working from home have it easy and do less work than those in the office. It is believed that workers at home slack off or are in some other way taking advantage of the company by not being in the office.
In fact, a 2021 study by Finder.com found that 22% of those working from home find “turning work off” at the end of the day a challenge and end up working more hours than they would when in the office.
Again it’s a common saying ‘there is no smoke without fire’ and just like this myths started from somewhere, so whilst the majority of remote workers don’t slack off there may be a minority that causes such frustration.
This is where strong leadership and good managers are needed. If every member of the teams’ performance is managed there should be no opportunity to slack off, working remotely or not.
· Not being appreciated.
Staff can often feel they are not appreciated.
Remote workers think they aren’t kept in the loop, don’t know what is going on, so those working in the office must be more liked, right?
In fact, communication is paramount no matter whether a worker is working from home or not.
Communication should put staff members minds at ease and they should be secure in their employment.
On-site based workers think if you appreciated them, you’d give them the option to work remotely too, right?
Wrong… in fact, the problem with that logic is that it is based on the misunderstanding that remote working is a privilege when actually, it’s most likely due to the nature of someone’s role, cost savings or need. Just like being in the office working from home comes with its own disadvantages including; feeling isolated, missing the causal chat that happens in an office, not being lopped in, a lack of job security, missing out on any free lunches, free tea/coffee or special office activities, not having someone to handle internet outages, poor phone connections, there isn’t anyone to empty the rubbish, vacuum and dust their desks.
· Lack of accountability.
Without seeing someone doing the job, some on-site team members think that their working from home colleagues aren’t doing as much work as they are. They may feel they are holding the fort, carrying more weight and working harder.
In fact, it is often found that managers focus more on their remote staff’s performance for these same reasons, so team members working remotely are commonly more micro-managed.
Remote workers may feel the need to ‘show’ their workload more, so have a tendency to send extra e-mails, setting extra meetings and more to show their work.
In fact, this leads to frustration for all involved and causes extra un-needed work.
To bust these myths you might want to try to facilitate discussions between remote and in-office workers and prompt them to air their personal challenges with their working environment. This will help dispel the assumptions they have made about each other.
3. Set Some Working From Home Guidelines
If you plan on having flexible, blended working, co-workers may accuse those working remotely of receiving special treatment and simply doing what they want, when they want.
It can be helpful to set some staff guidelines around things like; how often are remote staff expected to be in the office, is it once a week, once a month? Should remote staff work between certain hours or are they allowed to work in the evenings, weekends? Do remote staff have to adhere to a dress code similar to on-site staff? Are there criteria for working from home roles you could put in place?
In the same sense, remote workers often don’t acknowledge the restrictions of being on-site; you can’t just pop a washing on or get a delivery. Co-workers working from home should be sensitive to staff who don’t have this option and not make light of it. Bragging about working from home and about having your comfy’s on is simply fuelling the fire. Whilst you can’t control how someone else feels, you can keep yourself from gloating.
Any guidelines you can put in place may mean everyone, remote or not has an idea of what is expected of their colleagues and that everyone is being held to similar company standards.
4. Benefits And Appreciation
If your business sees working from home as a benefit then perhaps you need to explore different benefits for those in roles that can’t work from home. Again, to ensure there is no resentment built, you should ensure when you implement benefits like this that you explain the reasoning behind this e.g. We are introducing this benefit to on-site staff only as they miss out on the benefits of working from home.
Some ideas may be:
· Provide lunch or breakfast for staff on select days.
· Free Tea/Coffee.
· In-office monetary bonus.
· Extra Holidays for in-office workers.
5. Ask Yourself Why Are Only Some Employees Permitted To Work From Home?
Studies have shown that employees who work from home are not only more loyal to the business, but they are happier and more productive. Remote working is relatively new to many of us; meaning most businesses have not taken the time to re-evaluate how jobs are done and how they can be changed to allow remote working, even if only part-time.
Where it can be difficult like in Gillian’s situation to get away from having staff in-store, perhaps looking at her systems and challenging the normal way of working, her front of house team could have some days working from home. Although this may not be possible in many circumstances.
There have been some good examples in industries such as healthcare where it is necessary for Doctors to be in the hospital. A review of how Doctors’ work and their day-to-day activities identified the need to do paperwork but often when trying to complete paperwork on-site they are disturbed and interrupted.
Now Doctors are given one day per week as a non-clinical day where they can work from home to efficiently complete paperwork and review case files.
6. Focus On Staff Happiness
Your workplace culture should empower your team to be happy and fulfilled in their roles.
People who are happy in their own life and work tend to not put too much thought into what other people are getting ‘that’s better.’ Happiness should be part of a company’s performance appraisals and regular discussions. If staff are no longer happy in their roles many things can be done including succession planning and career development.
7. Keep A Paper Trail
You may find no matter what you do, nothing changes. Sometimes individuals are simply not designed to be happy, they like to stir the pot and cause drama in the workplace. These individuals can often poison an organisation infecting others with their resentment.
It’s important to make sure you keep a record of any behaviour of resentment such as gossip, taking extra lunchtime, leaving early and more. You should keep any emails or other communication that demonstrates negative behaviour and write descriptions, dates and possible witnesses of any hostile situations/toxic behaviour.
All of this information may be required if you need evidence and examples if the situation becomes toxic.
It’s fair to say that remote working has had a massive impact across workplaces in Scotland and, likely, it’s here to stay. Either way, it’s time to start planning how you will successfully manage teams that are a mixture of in-office and remote workers to limit any potential problems that may negatively affect your company’s culture and performance in the future.
If you need support with managing remotely you can get help from our HR team by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.