People

Will employee loyalty be weakened by hybrid working?

Friends and family are now the biggest competition for worker loyalty as employees spend more time at home than in the office

Before the global pandemic began, flexible work arrangements helped to increase loyalty towards the employer as these were seen as rare privileges for only the most deserving employees. Now, as working from home becomes the new norm, such loyalty has diminished.

Competing for workers’ loyalty and attention are not just their peers at work but also their friends and family at home with whom they are spending far more time. It may be a shock for employers that after years of rhetoric about needing to create a passion for work amongst their employees, staff are switching off from the company.

Many now believe that the Great Resignation’ could give us a glimpse of what the future of knowledge work could look like. The high number of job moves in various sectors can be attributed to hybrid becoming the new norm.

The trend towards a four-day week could also lead to work becoming more transactional and less social in the name of efficiency. It makes sense that, as workers spend less time together, social ties will weaken as will their loyalty to their employer. On the flipside, connection to friends and family become stronger, making the workplace less central to people.

Life without work

Pre-pandemic, the fear of workplace automation rekindled 19th century Marxist discussion about unemployment liberating workers. Now it is commonplace to see online posts in Reddit forums – such as ‘anti-work’ (which has over 1.7 million members) – about exploitative bosses forcing workers to come to the office during a pandemic. These stories make a strong case for a life without work.

However, life without work and loyalty to an employer does have its downsides. Work not only provides people with a pay cheque but also opportunities to interact with others outside of the home bubble. It gives structure to the day and ‘the means of establishing an identity outside of the home’ says Cardiff University research professor Alan Felstead, author of a new book Remote Working (Routledge 2022)

Recent research by the University of Cambridge and Salford found ‘that when people moved from unemployment or stay-at-home parenting into paid work… their risk of mental health problems reduced by an average of 30 per cent.’ However, this was also achieved by just eight hours of work, suggesting moderation of the working week would still yield the same benefits. Although, an eight-hour working week is perhaps unrealistic and almost impossible to envisage, many argue that work will soon cease to be the primary organising factor of an individual’s lifestyle.

Employers may choose to ignore such shifts and try to force their workers back to the office, but this could lead to mass resignation. A report published by Microsoft last year found that more than half of the UK office workers would leave if forced back to the office full-time.

Job crafting to fit ambitions

Employers who adapt and invest resources into recruitment and alumni networks as well as ‘job crafting’ (altering jobs to fit employees’ ambitions) will create social and emotional connections that do not depend on the office. These factors will mean work will once again be able to compete with connections to friends and family even when workers are out of the office.

Loosening the grip by offering more employee flexibility is scary but failing to do so will mean workers will have less loyalty to the company and less motivation to stay onboard.

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