Editor’s Note: This month, that is January 2021, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Work and The Workplace, where we invite various articles to highlight the profound changes that our workplaces may or may not have undergone and the effect that these changes have had on our personal and professional lives and ways of living in the time of the pandemic. If you’d like to share your article, email us at email@example.com.
The Covid-19 pandemic has culminated in a global paradigm shift never seen before this past year, impacting every arena of human society uniquely. The last nine months have seen people scrambling to adjust to what is popularly referred to as the new normal, characterised by social distancing, lockdowns and a global shift to an online medium to conduct business. But as the reality of a post-covid world is slowly becoming a possibility, a newer normal is under construction. Physically going back to the workplace after spending months navigating things online has proven to be a source of discontent for some and people are naturally anxious and nervous.
Perhaps no other event in history has destroyed and simultaneously recreated norms as radically as the current pandemic. To understand with more clarity how professionals feel about going back to the workplace, YourDOST Health Solutions conducted a survey with a data sample of 1000 working professionals between the ages of 20 to 70. The consequent report titled ‘Employee Sentiments on Returning to Work Amidst Covid-19’ has brought significant data to light.
Home or Office: What do People Prefer?
While working from home resulted in a quick productivity boost due to elimination of commute, in addition to the comfort of home, this was not unanimously enjoyed by all. August of 2020 saw one of the highest employee burnout risks. In most cases, the house environment is not favourable for work. Privacy is an important point of concern when it comes to work from home.
Since most people, especially freshers, can’t afford a separate home office, minimising distractions in the household proves to be extremely strenuous. Working from home disproportionately impacts women, who are compelled to take care of their household chores in addition to working. The absence of a professional work environment hence is a big issue for employees in India, who also complain about missing social interaction with their coworkers.
“Many have opined that WFH (Work from home) is going to be a mega-trend of this decade. I have a slightly contrarian view. The ‘Office’, after all, isn’t just a place where we come to work. It is a melting pot—of people, ideas, and conversations. The coming together of people with diverse skills and experiences is what makes an office more than just a place of work. This is what defines culture,” says Birla Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla.
He adds that it is difficult to maintain interpersonal professional relationships and networks online, and a work from home approach is not a long term sustainable business operation model.
Despite the challenges working from home presents, YourDOST survey outlines that as many as 60% people would feel more comfortable returning to the workplace only after a proper vaccine has arrived in the market. Furthermore, a good majority would prefer working from home in the near future. 11% of respondents were willing to take a salary cut to continue working from home and 28% of those are even willing to quit their jobs if asked to return to working from office.
Also read: Students Speak Up Against Deteriorating Mental Health In Virtual Schools
Workplace: A Newer Normal?
Despite the difficulties that arise in a work-from-home medium, Indian employees are still skeptical about returning to work in office. YourDOST report highlights a variety of material as well as psychological reasons behind the same. 68% of the respondents feared contracting and consequently infecting their families with the Coronavirus.
While women had a higher proportion of concern than men, Corona-phobia was the leading reason behind respondents hesitating to return to the office. 57% of the respondents also reported concerns with using public transport while commuting to work, skeptical of its degree of cleanliness in comparison with the new standards.
Additionally, psychological reasons add a fresh layer of apprehension to this. Only 39% of the respondents confirmed that their employer provides a provision to take days off for mental health. 55% of the respondents don’t believe they can talk to their employers or co-workers regarding mental health at all.
Prioritising employee’s health, especially in the current circumstances, should be of greater importance to employers. 48% feel that their workplace lacks empathy which makes bouncing back from difficult circumstances like the Pandemic more stressful. To ensure a greater employee morale, these psychological reasons should be given equal attention as the physical one.
Furthermore, the report also adds a gendered lens to its survey and has reached interesting conclusions. Only 64% of women professionals are confident about their workplace following proper guidelines as compared to 70% men. Only 39% of men in the workforce are highly worried about their colleagues not following proper Covid precautions as compared to 48% women. 75% of the women respondents were concerned with their family contracting Covid as opposed to 61% men. Women respondents were also more afraid of using public transportation.
Recommendations On How to Return to the Workplace
The report emphasises on the importance of building confidence in employees to ensure a smooth transition to a pre-Covid work model. Since apprehensions about joining the workplace are both physical and psychological, it is only logical to advance solutions that tackle both these arenas equally.
In order to successfully take care of the physical factors, the report recommends daily deep cleaning, social distancing, and regular temperature checks. In terms of psychological factors, the report recommends an empathetic and understanding work environment, especially from the end of employers. Medical insurance for employees as well as their families also help reduce their burden and increase confidence. Company policies also need to recognise the importance of mental health and provide provisions to accommodate an employee’s mental health issues in order to maximise productivity and ensure a positive environment of growth.
A hybrid model which includes days for in-office work as well as work-from-home was also strongly recommended. 66% respondents agreed to a flexible model of work as the current ideal. A compromise to a flexible model will thus advantage both the employee as well as the employer.
Also read: When Work Comes Home: Pandemic Realities For Indian Women In Tech
The past year saw one of the highest rise in unemployment rates, with several million people globally out of work. To restore a pre-covid world order, cooperation between employers and employees is tremendously urgent. It is important for company leaders to recognise their shortcomings in dealing with the pandemic and fix their errors wherever necessary. A long term solution to the plight of employees must be adopted to ensure a productive, confident and pleasant work environmentenviornment.
Featured Image Source: Feminism In India