Is your flexible work strategy sowing resentment?

New report highlights consequences of unequal flexible work policies

Is your flexible work strategy sowing resentment?

As flexible work arrangements become more popular, a new report is warning that an uneven implementation could disrupt workplace harmony and sow resentment between staff.

Owl Labs' survey among over 500 employees in the United States revealed that unclear or unequal flexible work policies may be breeding negative feelings among employees who think others are granted more flexibility than they do.

According to the report, employees are feeling resentment against colleagues who have more flexibility (15%) and against their employers for allowing it (13%).

It found that unequal flexible policies can make employees feel excluded (11%) and inadequate (9%), believing that they're not good enough to get same flexibility privileges.

Another 17% said they feel like they're being taken advantage of, adding that others with more flexibility aren't working as hard.

In-office employees (21%) who are reporting onsite full time are nearly twice as likely than hybrid staff (12%) and more than three times as likely than remote employees (6%) to feel like they're being taken advantage of.

Unequal flexibility in workplace

These negative emotions come as employees observe unequal implementation of flexibility in the workplace. According to the report, employees believe that these groups are given more flexibility:

  • Certain departments or teams (15% say they have more flexibility than others)
  • Senior executives (10%) and their favourite employees (5%)
  • Employees at random (10%)
  • People with longer tenure at the company (8%)
  • Junior employees (3%)
  • Parents or caregivers (3%)

Owl Labs said transparency will be "key" when it comes to workplace policies.

"To help foster positive feelings instead of confusion about flexibility, leaders should communicate why it's important that everyone can schedule their own task-based hybrid work so they can be most productive – such as conducting meetings and brainstorms in-office and focusing on solo projects at home or in a "third space' like a cafe," the report said.

Pressure to return to office

The findings come as Owl Labs' report found workplaces to be filled with "conflict and tension" in relation to flexibilities afforded to employees.

"Our new survey data found that the modern workplace is still full of conflict and tension around work styles – between employers and workers, company leaders and team managers, and peers," said Frank Weishaupt, CEO of Owl Labs, in a statement.

Among the factors driving this situation is the pressure from employers to return to office. The report found that 61% of hybrid staff are expected to return onsite over the past three years.

Hybrid managers (60%) are nearly twice as likely as non-managers to feel this pressure (32%), according to the report.

Weishaupt said this indicates that finding balance in hybrid work remains a challenge for many organisations.

"The reality is that offices may never return to how they were pre-pandemic – although many employers haven't yet given up on trying to turn back the clock, no matter how much discord it can cause among workers," it said.

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