Can a full-time office return trigger presenteeism?

'It's not going to motivate them to give their best efforts,' says expert on return to office mandates

Can a full-time office return trigger presenteeism?

Forcing a full-time office return can trigger presenteeism among employees, an expert warned, as organisations eye the move to resolve a "visibility issue" in the workplace.

Recent findings from Frog Recruitment revealed that remote employees are shaving more than three hours a week for their housework and hobbies, a move that could further discourage already sceptic employers from continuing to offer flexibility at work and opt for a full-time office return instead.

But Shannon Barlow, managing director at Frog Recruitment, told employers to consider the move's potential impact on employee experience.

Making employees report to the office full time can make them feel that they're not trusted at work, she said, adding that stripping them of their flexibility can make room for bigger expenses amid rising costs of living.

"It's not going to motivate them to give their best efforts," Barlow told HRD. "So, you might end up with presenteeism, where they're physically present at work, but they're not giving it 100%."

Presenteeism usually refers to employees' practice of going to work despite feeling sick, leaving them more likely to feel unproductive and perform poorly.

In this case, stripping employees off their flexibility could only make report to work daily for the sake of it, despite not feeling motivated nor engaged.

"They might just be going through the motions or doing the bare minimum of their job, whereas actually if they were more engaged and felt that they were part of the business and entrusted to do their job well, they might be a lot more productive and motivated to go that that extra mile, go above and beyond, if they still had that flexibility and their ability to work from home," Barlow said.

Further consequences of full-time return

And presenteeism is just the beginning, according to the managing director, who said dissatisfaction over full-time office return policies can trigger a rolling effect that could lead to a group of employees feeling unhappy and speaking out about their feelings.

"So, it can spread throughout the business and of course that may lead them to look for other opportunities as well," Barlow said.

"Instead of thinking that you're going to get more productivity out of your team by bringing them back into the office, you might have the reverse effect where they're not working as hard when they're in there, and then they may leave the business and take others with them as well."

'Reasonable' work-life balance

Even when you have people in the office, there's nothing to say that they're not going to spend similar amounts of time on tasks that are outside of work, she said.

"So, you know, I might be looking up a restaurant that I want to go to, or making a booking, or lots of different things. As well as, of course, the social element of being at work and just that time spent chatting with your workmates and others around the office."

According to Barlow, the merging of work and life responsibilities during remote work is "bound to happen" and it can work in a lot of situations depending on the role.

"It doesn't really matter if they start at 5:00 AM and there's a break in the middle to do something as long as they're getting through the required hours or the required outcomes that they need to be able to produce in their role," she said.

Flexibility being role-dependent

Barlow, however, noted that setting up work arrangements still depends on the role and what's needed from it.

"There are some roles where there's less wriggle room in terms of how flexible you can be. But for a lot of positions, it doesn't matter if they do it at 3:00 AM or 3:00 PM, the outcome is the same or the output is the same," she said.

There are also roles that require specific arrangements, such as seeing and physically talking to each other, to be more effective.

"You do have to adapt to the individuals," she advised. "It doesn't really work if it's a blanket where everybody must work five days or three days or many days in the office. You need to be able to adapt to the individuals to get the most out of it," she said.

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