How to avoid the dangers of 'always-on culture' and the bare-minimum mindset
Blog //23-06-2021

How to avoid the dangers of 'always-on culture' and the bare-minimum mindset

by Claire Ross, Head of Culture and Engagement

Having the space to focus on humans, not resources, has remained a key challenge for HR teams throughout the pandemic. What if you could make HR more human?

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Having oversight of your employees, their workload and output is crucial for effective day to day management. One of the biggest losses of the past 12 months has been the traditional ease of visibility that comes from colleagues sharing a workspace together. With a switch to hybrid working now looking to become a more permanent fixture of our working lives, businesses everywhere will need to be thinking about what steps they need to take in order to ensure they have the oversight they need to drive success.

Our latest whitepaper takes a look at some of the ways organisations can bridge the gap between their hybrid workforce and how best to instil a greater balance between work and home life. In this piece, we will be looking at both sides of the coin when it comes to employer anxieties over remote working, what misconceptions may have formed from older models of working and what practical steps you can take in order to ensure you have the visibility you need in order to demonstrate your trust in your hybrid teams.

'Always-on culture' and the bare-minimum mindset.

One of the long standing emotional barriers to remote working has always been this perceived lack of oversight. In the past, many business leaders expressed concern that a lack of visibility of their people can lead to a decrease in productivity and a difficulty in ensuring that employees are adhering to a defined work schedule when at home, or simply just doing their job.

Research conducted over the past year paints a very different picture of the UK workforce than the image being conjured up by previous, nebulous fears surrounding remote working. The lack of traditional workplace structure brought about by the global pandemic has instead galvanised the vast majority of the workforce into working longer hours, and staying switched and engaged with work processes, far longer than their scheduled hours. Data gathered by NordVPN suggests that on average, UK employees have been staying logged on for an average of an extra two hours per day over the course of the pandemic.

Whilst the disruption of the traditional working structure will definitely have played a part in this, the loss of the daily commute will have freed up a large percentage of time for many employees. However, the greatest indication is that company culture plays a far larger role in influencing these later finish times: Research by The Economist finds that employees tend to mimic the behaviour of the hierarchy, with exec level employees being particularly influential when determining and promoting company culture.

If employees see higher ups within their organisation regularly replying to emails outside of office hours, it naturally sets an expectation for them to do the same. This, combined with the lack of a physical divide between office and home life can make it extremely difficult for people to disengage with work outside of their scheduled hours.

The physical and mental strain caused by a perceived expectation to be 'always-on' can have a profound impact on the wellbeing of your people: The RSPH report that more than half (56 per cent) of those who started working from home said they found it harder to switch off, while almost two in five (38 per cent) said the change had disturbed their sleep. In the drive to push productivity and profitability, organisations need to be aware of the level of mental and physical attrition that an 'always-on culture' can inflict on their people.

The other side of the coin is the perception that a largely remote workforce can give rise to a culture of employees doing the bare minimum. A Pulse survey by LinkedIn suggests that employers found that the disconnect between the traditional office space could lead to a lack of oversight of employees and their workload, which in turn may lead to some people underperforming, providing the bare minimum baseline of work.

This is an understandable concern for many organisations who will want to focus their efforts on driving productivity and profitability, moving away from the survival mindset of the past year. With hybrid working looking to become a more permanent part of the fabric of work culture, business leaders will want to make sure that the hybrid set up is mutually beneficial for employer and employee alike.

Reducing the impact.

The good news for businesses is that ultimately, always on culture and the bare minimum mindset stem from the same source and the steps organisations should take to deal with one, naturally tend to also cover the other.

The main contributor to always on culture and a bare minimum mindset forms as a result of a lack of visibility. Both mindsets are reactions and evolutions to gaps in management processes, with always on culture in particular, stemming from a lack of clearly defined company objectives and employee expectations. The bare minimum mindset, while less common than the proliferation of always on culture, is in many ways a spectre of an older time-a hold out from a previously held perception of remote working.

The key to reducing the impacts of either mindset, as well as instilling employer confidence in the hybrid working model is having the proper oversight of your people and their workloads. If hybrid working is to be a success for your business, you will need to make sure that from day one, you have the systems and processes you need in place, in order to take a necessary step back and allow your people to focus on their responsibilities.

While it is undoubtedly an alien situation for many, businesses who place their trust in their employees will find themselves rewarded in the long run. A study by Forbes found that in organisations with greater levels of trust, employees experience 50% higher productivity, 76% more engagement, 74% less stress, 40% less burnout and 29% more life satisfaction.

The greatest way to engender this trust is by having systems and processes in place to give you that all important oversight. HR systems have become the backbone for many organisations over the past year, allowing businesses to remain connected with a disparate workforce during a time of crisis. As we move towards hybrid working, it will be important to not simply reset our expectations of what a HR system can do but instead, consider the agility and connectivity that these systems afforded organisations during a time of crisis and how these can now be applied to a long term strategy moving forward.

It is clear that when discussing always on culture and the worries around bare minimum attitudes, they both stem from breaks in the communication chain. Employees are working longer and longer hours as a result of feeling disconnected from the business goals of their organisations and a lack of oversight of output can lead to concerns around productivity when working from home.

Organisations should lean on their HR systems in order to provide them with this oversight as well as providing a platform to allow them to stay connected with their people and bridging the gap between remote and office workers, ensuring that the employee experience is consistent for all members of their workforce. By getting the visibility you need, you are able to identify potential problem areas such as employees falling behind in their output or patterns of employees regular working late. By being able to easily identify these trends, your HR teams are empowered to drive discussions with your people around how to make the hybrid set up beneficial for both parties, without the need for panicked course correction.

Our latest whitepaper explores in depth the phenomenon of the always on culture and the impact it can have on the long term wellbeing of employees. If you feel this article has been useful, the whitepaper contains a whole host of useful tips for businesses looking to make the transition to hybrid working as seamless and productive as possible.

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Claire Ross

Claire Ross

PUBLISHED BY

Head of Culture and Engagement

As Head of Culture & Engagement, I'm focused on building positive moments that matter which in turn strengthen the relationship our colleagues have with Advanced. Our employee experience is key to our business performance and from a background as a HR generalist, I see every aspect of the employee lifecycle as an opportunity to reinforce that we are an employer of choice.

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