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New research shows many managers still have issues trusting employees who work remotely, with this disconnect being coined as ‘productivity paranoia’. It’s the concept that even if employees are working effectively, managers won’t believe it if they are out of sight.

This is worrying because trust is one of the most important components of every work environment. Without it, staff may feel uncomfortable communicating their thoughts and ideas and struggle to support each other.

Negative work environments can exacerbate behaviors like overworking and presenteeism and it’s well-reported these, in turn, can lead to heightened stress states, which impact physical and mental well-being.

Embrace change and eliminate ‘micro-management’

For productivity paranoia to end, managers need to recognize their experiences as leaders, are not the same as their teams. Employees want their managers to be empathetic, and supportive and show an interest in their work, without feeling like they are trying to interfere.

While checking in with staff was common at the start of the lockdown, it seems to have become less of a business priority, with managers feeling depleted and emotionally drained from it. However, check-ins are vital in a remote working world, especially because many employees view their managers as the most important link they have with their company.

There is a difference between checking in and micromanaging though. Good managers are enablers, not enforcers.  Regular meetings shouldn’t focus solely on results or exhaustive checklists. This is what undermines trust and makes employees feel patronized and disempowered.

Discussing goals, praising accomplishments, and analyzing any gaps in work schedules are more effective measurements. Open conversations about these will ensure teams feel supported but also accountable for their work.

Enhance communications and outline expectations

Effective remote work requires a suite of communication and collaboration tools to empower hybrid teams too. Selecting the right tools that work for everyone is essential to enable effective communication between colleagues and teams.

Finally, business leaders looking to support their team in a remote or hybrid working world must understand the stresses posed and help to alleviate them.

For example, if employees feel they are not trusted, remote working can lead to issues like ‘working from home guilt’, when employees increase their working hours to compensate for the benefit of home working.

It is important for businesses to outline remote working expectations clearly to ease these worries. Let individuals know they aren’t expected to work longer hours just because they’re not commuting.

Support emotional well-being

According to Nuffield Health research, 1 in 3 said their mental well-being got worse over the past 12 months. Even more concerningly, two-thirds of respondents (66 percent) said they would not feel comfortable raising a mental or emotional well-being issue with their employer, which shows there is still a significant stigma attached to poor mental health.

The key to raising awareness about mental health in the workplace is creating a culture in which these conversations are welcomed and expected. Employers should signpost individuals towards the emotional well-being support available to them.

This may include Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) or cognitive behavior therapy sessions, which give individuals direct access to a specialist who can help them understand and break unhelpful thinking patterns and behaviours and enhance their ability to cope in new and uncertain situations.

Digital or virtual therapy solutions can be effective too. Remember, for many people, the notion of sharing a vulnerability or admitting a problem, is a barrier in itself. However, some research suggests counseling conducted online is as effective as face-to-face sessions. During 2020 Nuffield Health therapists delivered 3.7 million minutes of therapy remotely with outcomes comparative to therapy delivered face to face.

By Marc Holl, Head of Primary Care, Nuffield Health.

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